By Greg McCune
CHICAGO (Reuters) - The governing body for U.S. college sports warned on Tuesday it will require coaches to take more responsibility for following rules, and punish violators more swiftly, under reforms unveiled in the aftermath of Penn State University's sex abuse scandal.
In July, the National Collegiate Athletic Association skirted its own enforcement policies to impose harsh penalties on Penn State, including a $60 million fine and a four-year ban on football post-season play.
The sanctions followed revelations of serial child sex abuse by former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky and the failure of university leaders and legendary head football coach Joe Paterno to put a stop to it for years.
While deliberations on a new NCAA system of disciplining college sports began before the Penn State scandal erupted, and no mention was made of the scandal in the NCAA announcement on Tuesday, one expert said the Penn State embarrassment had influenced the NCAA.
"I'm sure some of the wording was added after the (Penn State) allegations came to light," said Jerry Parkinson, a law professor at the University of Wyoming who served on the NCAA's major college infractions committee for 10 years.
The new NCAA discipline system, which goes into effect next August, will have a four-tier hierarchy of violations ranging from "severe" to "incidental."
It puts more onus on big time college coaches to be accountable for how their teams and staff act, saying that coaches are "presumed responsible" for violations even if they did not know of them directly.
The NCAA said the new rules were designed to curb a "culture" of coaches either encouraging, or turning a blind eye, to violations because they calculated that NCAA sanctions would be minimal and slow to be applied.
Officials said there were numerous cases in the past when head coaches "escaped" disciple by pleading ignorance to violations or leaving for another school.
U.S. college football and basketball coaches routinely make multimillion-dollar salaries and their programs bring in huge amounts of revenue for the schools through attendance at games, sponsorship contracts from companies such as Nike and Adidas, and television contracts, while the student athletes are not paid.
The new NCAA regime tries to speed up the sanctions process by expanding the NCAA infractions committee to as many as 24 people from 10 previously to allow smaller groups within the committee to deliberate cases more quickly.
A past complaint was that the process requiring the full committee to meet was too slow, often taking months or even a year from launch of an investigation to deciding sanctions. NCAA President Mark Emmert skirted the normal sanctions process in applying the Penn State penalties.
While many experts welcomed the reforms, Josephine Potuto, a constitutional law professor at the University of Nebraska and a former chair of the NCAA infractions committee, said she was concerned that the smaller groups deciding cases would dilute the authority of the NCAA infractions body.
In the past, the committee has been comprised of top athletic officials from major colleges and major conferences, as well as legal experts.
"The Committee on Infractions needs to have people with gravitas," she said. "If it loses that, it loses a lot."
(Reporting by Greg McCune; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)