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Columbia Missourian

Q&A: Sports lawyer sheds light on Frank Haith case

By Brendan Meyer
February 21, 2013 | 6:51 p.m. CST
Missouri men's basketball coach Frank Haith leaves the arena after Missouri beat No. 5 Florida on Tuesday.

COLUMBIA — Wednesday, it was revealed that Missouri men’s basketball coach Frank Haith received a notice of allegations from the NCAA saying he failed to promote an atmosphere for compliance when he was head coach at the University of Miami.

So now what? What does this mean for Haith? What does this mean for Missouri men's basketball?

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Dan Fitzgerald, a sports attorney at Brody Wilkinson and publisher of the Connecticut Sports Law blog, spoke to the Missourian by phone Thursday to help clarify. 

Missourian: What does failure to promote an atmosphere for compliance mean?

Fitzgerald: Well, the NCAA decided that coaches have to be strictly liable for things that happen under their watch. What that means is, if an assistant for example were to violate an NCAA rule, the coach could be responsible for it even though he didn’t know. Promoting an atmosphere of compliance means making sure your program from top to bottom is following NCAA rules. In this particular case, promoting an atmosphere of compliance means when Haith was faced with something that appeared problematic or a potential violation, he’s supposed to report it up the chain to compliance to allow them to investigate.

Missourian: What does this mean for Haith moving forward?

Fitzgerald: Coach Haith is going to have to deal with this allegation with his assistance of counsel to answer it and defend himself. I think this is a relatively minor allegation. Could he receive a slap on the wrist? Potentially ... The other thing to be aware of is that this is just a notice of allegation. It’s similar to a lawsuit in that this would be the first document filed. It’s like a complaint. Coach Haith has the opportunity to respond to this. Right now, this is just the NCAA’s view of it without any of his response or his defense. A lot of times allegations could look a lot different once you hear both sides of the story.

Missourian: What does this mean for Missouri moving forward?

Fitzgerald: It wouldn’t mean anything for Missouri in terms of the school being placed on probation or being penalized ... I don’t think it’s going to affect Missouri. 

Missourian: Could Missouri self-impose any sanctions on Haith to avoid any further punishment?

Fitzgerald: I suppose that they could fine him, or they could have him sit out a game. But I think, especially in this climate where the NCAA is issuing a notice of violations when the NCAA itself failed to follow its own rules in the investigation, I would imagine that anyone charged with anything in this is going to fight it. The NCAA has lost a lot of credibility in the Nevin Shapiro case.

If I were his (Haith's) lawyer, I would make sure that Missouri has him attend a class on NCAA compliance and reporting violations and the compliance process.

Missourian: What is your reaction to the NCAA having to call an external review of the investigation after gaining improper information?

Fitzgerald: I think the NCAA will continue to act as if they didn’t do anything wrong, because once they stop enforcing things because of their own situation, then they’re going to lose any power that they had.

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Haith, who is represented by Columbia lawyer Wally Bley, will have 90 days to respond to the NCAA in writing, which will then lead to a hearing in front of the NCAA committee on infractions.