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Moral codes and moral tensions : an examination of compliance officers’ morality and moral functioning Kihl, Lisa Adeline


The purpose of this study is to enhance our understanding of National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I compliance officers' conceptions of morality and moral functioning. Critics of NCAA intercollegiate athletics maintain that the Association's strict legislative and rules systems deter NCAA stakeholders from making thoughtful moral judgments. Current research supports this assumption for studies examining various sport stakeholders' moral functioning show that they reason to the level of the rules or employ a rule book conception of morality (cf Beller & Stoll, 1995; Malloy, 1991; Timmer, 1999). Walker et al. (1995) and Walker (2000a) argue that our understanding of people's every day moral experiences has been limited by the theoretical dominance of cognitive moral psychology in studies investigating people's morality. Walker et al. (1995) maintain that moral functioning research should be redirected to examine people's real-life moral experiences within a holistic theoretical framework. Such a framework provides an inclusive perspective from which to examine the interrelationships between morality and moral functioning. Based on this argument, a Contextualist practical reasoning framework using the works of Coombs (1984, 1997), Dworkin (1977, 1985, 1986), Frankena (1980), Wallace, (1988, 1996), and Winkler (1993) was used to investigate how compliance officers conceptualized morality and reasoned about hard cases. A purposeful-intensity sampling technique was employed, compliance officers from each of the Pacific-10 Conference member institutions participated in this study. Using an interview guide, face-to-face interviews were carried out with each of the participants. The goal was to document the complicated and diverse nature of participants' understandings of morality, the negotiations and strategies they used in working within compliance, and the ways in which they considered NCAA and Conference standards, values, and beliefs in their rule interpretations and adjudications of difficult moral problems. The study examined how the participants thought about right and wrong, their moral perceptions and sensitivities, and their practical reasoning. It was found that, specifically, the compliance officers displayed individual normative systems that were comprised of two predominant moral codes (professional and personal). The value structures underpinning their respective moral codes were similar yet independent from the NCAA's and the Pac-10 Conference's. The participants' personal and professional moral codes also seemed to create tensions in their efforts to determine right from wrong, fulfill their role, and make rule interpretations. As well, compliance officers displayed individual moral perceptions and sensitivities, which informed their discernment of case particulars. In addition, the findings showed that compliance officers employed three approaches to rule interpretations: a literal approach, working within the gray approach, or a spirit of the rules approach. Furthermore, they used one discretionary strategy in obtaining an official interpretation as they used caution in obtaining an official Conference/NCAA interpretation if they believed the interpretation would place their institution and disadvantage. The potential rule infractions (major or secondary) influenced the type of rules approach or use of discretion they used. Lastly, the analysis showed that, in resolving hard cases, the compliance officers appealed to specific standards of practical reasoning. The type of problem, the compliance officers' conceptions of morality, along with NCAA and Conference standards, beliefs, and values all influenced the types of standards used to resolve moral problems. Thus, the findings highlighted the significance of examining holistically the interrelationships among people's understandings of morality, their moral perceptions and sensitivities, and their moral functioning It is suggested that future research should explore other athletic administrators' conceptions of morality, their understandings of moral and athletic concepts, and their applications in decision-making. These findings also point to the feasibility of the NCAA's deregulation proposal, as it was argued that all rules require interpretation and deliberation, and should be resolved within the boundaries of the NCAA's legislative system and political morality.

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