The organization that governs university sports in Canada wants to beef up investigations into recruiting violations and sanctions against offenders by taking over responsibility for enforcing its rules from members schools.
By bringing the compliance process totally in house, Canadian Interuniversity Sport will be adopting a system similar to what is already being used by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, its powerful U.S. counterpart.
The new guidelines for policing violations were outlined to members on Monday during the opening of the three-day CIS annual general meeting being held at a downtown Toronto hotel.
"When it comes to the recruitment of athletes to CIS schools, I don't think there are any inherent problems," said Graham Brown, the chief executive officer of the CIS. "There is not an epidemic with rules being broken. We're not paying people off; there aren't agents involved, or shady deals.
"It's really just about putting up an accountability framework."
The initiative will cover a wide array of compliance issues when it comes to the administration of university athletics in Canada. It will include new rules governing off-field jobs for student athletes and how far schools can go when entertaining potential recruits in an effort to persuade them to attend their institutions.
The CIS has 56 members schools across the country, and the rules surrounding recruitment of top student athletes, especially in football, are not as clear-cut as many of the schools would like.
In the past, it has often been left to schools' athletic directors to determine if their coaches circumvented the rules when wooing star athletes. That is viewed as an overt conflict of interest.
Once a possible violation has been detected and reported to the CIS, it is then turned over to a volunteer committee of CIS members that is tasked with investigating and, if necessary, recommending penalties or sanctions against the offending schools and/or athletes.
Under the new guidelines the CIS is considering, those responsibilities would be centralized at the organization's head office and overseen by three new "compliance officers" whose jobs would be to make sure CIS members are following the letter of the law.
One compliance officer would be responsible for monitoring the Canada West Universities Athletic Association, one of the four conferences that make up the CIS. Another would oversee operations in Ontario University Athletics while the third would handle both the operations in Atlantic University Sport and the Quebec conference.
According to a study prepared for the CIS by McLaren Global Sports Solutions, a Toronto-based company that specializes in sport-management practices, such a initiative would cost the CIS as little as $5,000 a member school annually.
"I don't ever think I've seen a time in my lifetime when sports [are] in the crises [they're] currently in, across the board," Richard McLaren, founder and chief executive officer of the company, told CIS members during Monday's presentation. "Whether it's Olympic sports, professional sports, university sports or at a national team, there are all sorts of problems right across the piece."
McLaren, a lawyer, is a respected expert in sports management and administration. Last month, he was appointed by the World Anti-Doping Agency to head up an independent investigation into allegations of widespread Russian doping at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.
The meeting was told that there is little faith among the CIS rank and file that the current system for detecting cheaters, especially when it comes to recruiting infractions, is effective. When McLaren was conducting interviews prior to writing his recommendations, one CIS official told him, "My trust in the process is zero."
Said another: "Coaches have no confidence anything will get done. They believe violations are happening, but there is no process for punishment."
McLaren said in an interview that transparency in compliance issues is a key to a successfully run sports enterprise. In-house compliance officers will bring more clarity to the issue, McLaren added.
The CIS is hoping to have the new changes in place in time for the upcoming 2016-17 sports calendar, which begins in September. But there is still a lot of work to do.
McLaren said his company is still working on exactly what sanctions should be put in place to punish those schools found to be in violation of the rules.
But some CIS members are wondering if the hiring of three compliance officers is a bit of overkill.
"An external investigator makes all kinds of logistical sense," said Ian Reade, athletic director at the University of Alberta. "But it's quite an escalation, because they're talking about $5,000 a member. That would probably get you the investigators, but I doubt that would cover the cost of the investigations, which could be double that.
"And then the question would be, how busy will this get? As soon as one of these [investigations] is started, I think it could set off a wave of anonymous e-mails, anonymous messages. We get a lot of that already, and we have to deal with it internally and we have to decide by ourselves if we should be following it up."