INDIANAPOLIS – Mark Emmert is willing to help colleges and universities do a better job protecting minors on campus.
In the wake of two disturbing child sexual abuse allegations in the past month, the NCAA president said Monday he has contacted U.S. Education Secretary Arnie Duncan so he can advise school leaders about the best practices in dealing with ball boys, ball girls and students who attend summer camps.
“We’re looking into that right now,” Emmert told The Associated Press. “Because we’ve never been involved with this kind of thing before, we’re trying to determine what is the best thing to do.”
Emmert did not provide specific details on what those guidelines may include, how extensive they could be or when they might be completed.
No, Emmert does not intend to add the guidelines to the massive 400-plus-page rule book, but he wants to prevent future improprieties from occurring and to find out if there is a pervasive culture within athletic departments that could lead to cover-ups of criminal conduct.
“When you have a veil of secrecy, you have the potential for abusive behavior whether it’s in the Catholic Church, a school or whatever, and that applies to all of us, not just the NCAA,” Emmert told reporters in Indianapolis.
Penn State already has said it is considering a change to its school policy, too.
“We are looking at issues such as you mentioned,” school president Rod Erickson said. “For example, the sports camps and who was allowed to participate in the supervisory or oversight kind of role. But we’re also relying on the special investigations task force, which is looking at every aspect of policy and practice. I’ve already said as part of my five promises that we will implement the recommendations that come out of that investigation.”
Emmert’s comments came in the final month of a scandal-tinged year that has damaged the images of athletic programs from Boise State and Tennessee to Miami and Ohio State.
But the recent allegations at Penn State and Syracuse are the most shocking.
After a grand jury report accused former Nittany Lions defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky of abusing eight boys over a 15-year period, university trustees fired coach Joe Paterno and school President Graham Spanier. Two other former Penn State officials are charged with failing to report complaints of abuse and with lying to a grand jury. They have pleaded not guilty.
Critics contended that Paterno, Spanier and other school officials should have done more to stop Sandusky, who is awaiting a preliminary hearing on 40 criminal counts.
Last week, after three men accused Bernie Fine of molesting them, Syracuse fired the longtime assistant basketball coach. Federal authorities are investigating, but no charges have been filed.
The Education Department announced a month ago that it would conduct an investigation at Penn State. Rep. Patrick Meehan, R-Pa., a former U.S. attorney, has encouraged Duncan to investigate possible Clery Act violations; the law requires schools to report the number of crimes on campus and provide warnings in a timely manner if safety is threatened.
Emmert sent a letter to Penn State officials last month, notifying the school that the NCAA had opened an inquiry into whether NCAA rules may have been violated. Emmert has asked the school to answer questions by Dec. 16, though he acknowledged Monday that the ongoing investigations make it unlikely he would hear back that soon.
“We have been in touch with Penn State and their board of trustees, and I would describe that relationship as extremely collaborative, and we appreciate that,” Emmert said. “But I think it’s clear that it will be impossible for them to provide us with a lot of that information in that timeframe. We certainly want to get all of our questions answered, so we’ll see what they’re saying.”
Emmert said previously that the information could lead to a formal investigation at Penn State.
Syracuse, however, is not facing an NCAA inquiry yet.
“We’ve not done that based on the information we have right now,” Emmert said.
But it’s clear Emmert is weary of all these allegations.
“We have had a heck of a year of scandals and disruptions,” he said. “To have really good success on the one hand and all these grenades blowing up has been frustrating.”
Emmert reiterated his desire to reform the rule book, saying NCAA leaders had held two meetings in the past week to discuss how to simplify the rulebook. He wants more emphasis on allegations that threaten the integrity of the game, a more streamlined hearing process and a multi-tiered penalty structure, rather than the two-tiered system that currently exists.
Those measures could be passed by April.
“I am adamant, and the membership is adamant, that we make changes quickly and that we base them around the core values of college athletics,” Emmert said.
He also rejected the notion of paying athletes more than the $2,000 stipend that was approved by the board in October, and he acknowledged that a college football playoff is likely to become a hot topic after this year’s bowl season because the BCS contracts expire in two years.
Could there be a playoff? Perhaps.
Emmert mentioned the model of a bowl season plus-one, a national championship game, though he expressed concerns over injuries and academics if an eight-team or 16-team tournament were implemented.
“If you start with a playoff model, you could have kids playing 16 games and that becomes a physical strain as well as a huge academic strain,” he said. “We’ve been looking at the construction of the current postseason calendar because you’re seeing a creep into early January and a creep earlier into December. We want the games to occur after the end of the semester, the 15th or 16th of December, and before the start of the winter semester, so to fit a 16-team playoff into that timeframe would be pretty bloody tough.”
Associated Press writer Genaro C. Armas in State College, Pa., contributed to this report.