The NCAA has a four-level violation structure that reflects the severity of the offense. The most severe violations result in the removal of championships and scholarships, while lesser violations typically result in bans on postseason participation or recruitment.
The process of levying punishment is complex and requires the involvement of a number of people including the institution, coaching staff, athletic director, compliance staff, faculty athletics representative and others. The NCAA Committee on Infractions can have as many as 24 members and has streamlined its decision-making process in recent years.
A coach can be found guilty of a Level 1 violation for failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance and fail to monitor rules compliance within their program. The penalty for this violation can include suspension and a fine. It can also include bans on recruiting and other restrictions.
There are two other levels of NCAA violations, categorized as Levels II and III. These violations are more serious than Level I, but not as severe as a major violation. The penalty for a Level II violation includes a fine and limits on the coach’s ability to recruit. It can also include a loss of conference perks.
In 2022, Clemson reported 21 NCAA violations involving their football, baseball and women’s basketball programs and their athletic training department and the school’s compliance office. Of these, 12 were deemed Level II and five were deemed Level III. The other seven involved the men’s gymnastics and rowing programs, as well as the athletics director and head coach of those programs.
The most egregious cases can result in a school being banned from competing in a specific sport for one or two seasons. This type of penalty is largely determined by the number of major violations that the institution has previously been subject to. It is also based on the number of years the institution has been on probation and whether it has been sanctioned in other sports.
One of the most infamous examples of a multi-season ban occurred in 1975 when Miami was banned from all sports except swimming and diving for violating NCAA rules multiple times. The committee decided to give significant weight to the fact that the school was quick to acknowledge its mistakes, cooperated with investigators and otherwise took steps to expedite the resolution of the case.
Jim Harbaugh, the current head coach of Michigan, is under investigation by the NCAA for potential recruiting violations during the COVID-19 dead period. Those alleged violations include contacting recruits during the NCAA-mandated time and using a defensive analyst on the field for coaching purposes. Harbaugh could be hit with a Level I violation for hindering an NCAA investigation, which would include a six-game suspension and recruiting restrictions.
The NCAA can’t investigate NFL coaches, so if Harbaugh leaves for the NFL as is rumored, this case would likely go away. If he stays, however, the penalties could be more severe. In addition to a possible suspension, a Level I violation would carry a “show cause” penalty that would make the coach non-grata at any other college for a year.