Investigations, Compliance and Litigation

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News & Resources

Lessons from College Sports Investigations: Internal Investigation Policies

Internal investigations of alleged NCAA rules-violations at colleges and universities offer important lessons for attorneys conducting workplace investigations and other inquiries at businesses and other organizations. This article uses examples from intercollegiate athletic programs to provide professionals with helpful insight when designing or revising a client’s internal investigation policy.

The modern athletic department often is confronted with allegations, rumors and innuendo involving possible violations of athletic regulatory (e.g., NCAA, NAIA or NJCAA) legislation, criminal statutes and campus policy. Athletic administrators have learned conducting a thorough and effective internal investigation permits the institution to support the fair and consistent enforcement of athletic regulatory and campus rules, as well as to take immediate corrective action to prevent additional illicit behavior. Further, an internal investigation assists an athletics department with identifying and minimizing legal risk.

Generally, most NCAA athletics programs have adopted formal investigation policies or procedures, which explain the protocols the organization will follow during an internal investigation.

Based on best practices in intercollegiate athletics, a typical investigation policy:

·         Is in writing and disseminated throughout the organization

·         Follows industry-specific standards and requirements

·         Has been approved by the chief executive officer or governing board

·         Identifies the individual or office to receive allegations

·         Describes the method to select the investigator

·         References other organizational policies, procedures and protocols:

o   Duty to report allegations

o   Retaliation and harassment

o   Human resources/personnel

·         Denotes the investigation timeline and tasks

·         Outlines:

o   The duties and responsibilities of pertinent personnel during an investigation

o   The retention and release of documents generated during the investigation

o   The provision of notice to government and private regulatory agencies

o   The documentation of investigative findings

o   The internal and external disclosure of the investigative findings

·         Requires the investigator (or other appropriate party) to:

o   Assess risk

o   Develop corrective measures

o   Propose self-imposed penalties (if necessary)

·         Mandates a timely review of the allegations

·         Is legally compliant:

o   Due and fair process (if applicable)

o   National, state and local laws

o   Collective bargaining agreements (if applicable).


Michael L. Buckner is president and shareholder of Buckner. He conducts investigations of alleged misconduct, regulatory infractions, doping violations and unethical conduct for universities, sports organizations and business entities. He can be reached at michaelbucknerlaw@gmail.com or 954-315-0190.