Kansas Athletics’ current infractions case — which includes the allegation of five Level I violations within the men’s basketball program — has left many fans searching for clarity about the process and a timeline for a resolution.
For help with these answers, The Star spoke Wednesday with Naima Stevenson Starks, the NCAA’s VP of Hearing Operations, to gain insight about the road ahead.
The following are some questions and answers about KU’s future, with help from Stevenson Starks’ comments. Note that Stevenson Starks cannot comment specifically about KU’s impending case, and instead can only speak in generalities about the process.
Q: What stage is KU’s infractions case at now?
KU’s case has been recommended to the NCAA’s new Independent Accountability Resolution Process (IARP), an NCAA source confirmed to The Star on Wednesday.
What does that mean? Let’s back up for a second.
In previous years, KU would be scheduling a hearing with the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions. Following the Condoleezza Rice-led commission on college basketball, the NCAA created the IARP, which focuses on handling complex cases by using NCAA outsiders to gather evidence and deliver rulings.
KU’s recommendation for the IARP doesn’t guarantee KU going in front of the new panel. Another committee — the Infractions Referral Committee (IRC) — will decide whether the case will be seen by the IARP.
Something important to note: The final decision on whether KU’s case goes to the IARP is out of the school’s hands. KU has 20 days to respond to the IARP recommendation, making its recommendation, but the final decision lies completely with the five-person IRC.
“(A school) can absolutely say, ‘No we don’t want to go. Don’t take us.’ Or they could say, ‘Yes, we think the process is appropriate for our infractions matter,” Stevenson Starks said. “But ultimately, this Infractions Referral Committee was put in place to be essentially the gatekeeper of what comes into the independent structure.”
So what’s the timeline here? Other cases give us a glimpse.
North Carolina State’s case was first reported to have been recommended to the IARP in early April, with the IRC officially announcing Monday that the case had been accepted. If that timeline remains somewhat consistent, KU could expect to be accepted into the IARP in about six weeks, which would be late June or early July.
If a case is officially referred, that announcement is posted on the IARP website. If it is not accepted, there is no public statement made.
It is expected that KU will request its case be heard by the IARP, with the hope that it can get a more “fair trial” in front of NCAA outsiders rather than the Committee on Infractions, a 10-person group made up mostly of member school administrators who come together under the NCAA’s umbrella.
Q: What’s next if KU is accepted to the IARP?
This is where the process diverges from NCAA infractions cases in the past.
If KU were to be accepted to the IARP, the next step would be to create an independent resolution panel (IRP) for KU’s case. There are 15 members of that panel, and five would be chosen to participate directly with KU’s matter.
From there, one of those five people would be selected as the chief panel member. That person is ultimately going to have control over the case’s timeline.
The reason for that? That chief panel member will eventually be in charge of the “Case Management Plan,” which spells out deadlines for each step of the case. That outline will move the process all the way to an eventual hearing in front of the five-person IRP.
Q: What could impact KU’s ‘Case Management Plan’?
The biggest question mark will be the actions of the Complex Case Unit (CCU) in regards to KU’s case.
Stevenson Starks points to the CCU as having a “vital” role, as it gives the new process an independent investigative arm. In the past, the NCAA’s enforcement staff would not only investigate potential violations, but it would also present those allegations and findings to the Committee on Infractions.
With this new method, the findings are presented by the CCU, which is made up of external investigators and advocates with no school affiliations, along with one member of the enforcement staff.
In short, the CCU is charged with reviewing the NCAA enforcement staff’s notice of allegations and investigative efforts, then making independent determinations on whether additional investigation is needed.
“They would not be bound in any way by what has already occurred in the case,” Stevenson Starks said.
The CCU, then, has an important responsibility. It could add violations. It could subtract them if it feels some aren’t warranted. It could even reissue a new notice of allegations altogether.
As one would expect, if there were new allegations made, a school would have a chance to respond to those as well.
Q: What will a school’s hearing in front of the new IRP be like?
This a good question … without a complete answer at this point.
“This is kind of unchartered territory with respect to the hearings for sure,” Stevenson Starks said.
Ultimately, a hearing is likely to play out similar to one that would take place in front of the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions. That’s not guaranteed completely, though, as the five-person IRP will dictate how hearings will be run and operated.
The overall rules should remain similar, as parties will have a chance to state their case at the hearing. The process will change a bit, though, as the CCU will present its investigative findings on the case to the IRP.
Q: Can the NCAA outsiders who are on the IRP create or change NCAA bylaws?
The IRP members, though independent from the NCAA structure, cannot create their own new NCAA regulations then apply them to the matter at hand.
“The rules are exactly the same,” Stevenson Starks said. “It is the process by which those determinations are ultimately going to be made that is different in some ways, similar in others, in the independent structure.”
All individuals on the IRP — the committee that determines in the end whether violations were committed and what penalties a school should face — have already gone through training in regard to NCAA rules. They attended a full orientation day in August, and also have taken part in webinars related to different areas in the NCAA manual.
Stevenson Starks says the goal is for these people to be free of conflicts of interest, yet have the familiarity with the NCAA’s processes and legislation to rule on cases.
Q: Can KU and the NCAA still negotiate with this case and come to an agreement or settlement on punishment if it ends up in the IARP?
The short answer, Stevenson Starks says, is no.
“Once you get into the independent structure,” Stevenson Starks said, “then you are moving towards a hearing ultimately.”
The bottom line: Most NCAA cases are predicated on schools being cooperative and self-governing. In those instances, oftentimes the NCAA and schools agree to certain facts and work toward a resolution.
More and more, though — and especially in KU’s case — schools have started to advocate for themselves while rejecting the NCAA’s assertions. It’s these types of cases that are likely to end up in the IARP process, where NCAA outsiders can help resolve contentious matters.
It’s possible, Stevenson Starks said, for a school like KU to agree with certain allegations at its hearing. That potentially would make the job of the IRP easier, as it wouldn’t have to settle as many disputes.
Negotiated resolutions, though, are not available once a case enters the IARP. The process is then moving toward a hearing, which eventually ends up with the IRP deciding the case.
Q: What’s the timeline for a resolution on the case after a hearing takes place?
Stevenson Starks says it would be a “shot in the dark” to predict this, as each case will have its own set of circumstances.
After the hearing, the five-member panel will have to take in all the information presented at the hearing, come to a conclusion on what violations took place, then also determine what penalties should be handed out.
Stevenson Starks says the panel should be able to take all the time it needs to come to its ruling. When that takes place, the determination will be announced publicly soon after.
Q: What’s the expectation for KU’s case to be fully completed through the IARP, if it goes that route?
Stevenson Starks generally agrees that once a case gets into the IARP process, it has the expectation to be completed “expeditiously.”
“In general terms … you’re talking months and not years for resolution,” Stevenson Starks said.
As one might expect, exceptions could change that.
The CCU, for example, could ask to conduct an additional investigation; that could cause a significant change, potentially requiring more responses if the original notice of allegations is altered.
A rough estimate, however, could have KU’s case completed in late 2020 or early 2021, depending on how the process plays out.
Q: If KU basketball receives punishments during the 2020-21 season, would those be enforced immediately?
The most likely answer is “it depends.”
As far as a potential postseason ban is concerned, Stevenson Starks said there is precedent of teams serving those punishments in the same season, as long as postseason play had not started.
Potential coaching suspensions have “less of a clear line,” Stevenson Starks said, on when they would be imposed. The timing of that likely would depend on the severity of the suspension.
Q: Will the coronavirus impact the timeline of KU’s case?
Because of COVID-19 concerns, the Committee on Infractions and IRP have suspended hearings and oral arguments through May 31.
Stevenson Starks called the coronavirus a “wild card,” simply because it could impact how these groups meet. She said there will likely have to be future evaluation about the viability of in-person hearings, whether meetings and arguments lend themselves to a virtual setting.
It’s one more reason, in other words, to not be overly confident about a specific KU timeline.