INDIANAPOLIS – Slow. Toothless. Tone deaf to the real problems in college sports.
The NCAA has heard such criticisms for years.
In punishing the Penn State football program with an unprecedented series of sanctions, President Mark Emmert said he hopes the NCAA has served notice that a win-at-all-costs mentality in major college football won’t be tolerated.
This has been a theme for the former University of Washington president since he got the job in October 2010 and scandal after scandal hit the headlines, from Auburn to Miami and State College, Pa.
Yet the NCAA does not plan to overhaul its procedures for handling potential infractions. Emmert made it clear that the $60 million fine, four-year bowl ban, scholarship reductions and more were put together largely by himself and a handful of NCAA leaders because Penn State and serial child molester Jerry Sandusky presented a unique situation.
In other words, few can imagine anything like this happening again.
“This is a statement about this case,” Emmert said.
There was no need for the NCAA to investigate what rules were broken, a process that can take months or years. Penn State handed over the results of its investigation by former FBI Director Louis Freeh and didn’t dispute the facts. Emmert said the decision to bypass the infractions committee and let the NCAA Executive Committee and its Division I Board of Directors decide on the penalties was not a sign of a change in the way future proceedings will go, but a sign that no investigation was necessary.
“This was just a singular case that we all hope we don’t face again,” he said.
Joe Paterno’s family criticized the NCAA and Penn State after the sanctions were announced.
“The NCAA has now become the latest party to accept the report as the final word on the Sandusky scandal,” the family said. “That the president, the athletic director and the Board of Trustees accepted this unprecedented action by the NCAA without requiring a full due process hearing before the Committee on Infractions is an abdication of their responsibilities and a breach of their fiduciary duties to the University and the 500,000 alumni.”
In Dallas, former Stanford athletic director and new Big 12 Conference Commissioner Bob Bowlsby also wondered about whether the college sports governing body should be stepping into a criminal matter.
“I don’t know that it is absolutely clear on what basis this becomes an NCAA issue,” he said at football media days. “Having said that, there are certainly elements of our constitution and bylaws that go right to the heart of ethics, and clearly there are some ethical issues here. Perhaps the lesson that will be taken away from it is that things can get pretty far afield when there are people running the show that don’t ever get frank feedback and don’t ever have anybody push back against them in terms of re-centering their decision processes.”
North Carolina State coach Tom O’Brien said the NCAA had effectively made Penn State a “I-AA school” by reducing the number of scholarships.
“We’re in a new era, obviously, and a new stage,” he said of the NCAA. “One of the things the NCAA did when they came to our meetings was that they showed what penalties in the past were and what penalties were going to be in the future, and the penalties in the future were multiple times what the penalties in the past were.”
Too much so, according to some Penn State alumni.
“It’s ludicrous. It’s punishing all the wrong people,” said Brad Benson, a former Penn State and New York Giants player. “”The NCAA is way out of line with this. It’s an overreaction. It’s a knee-jerk reaction. I think the statue should have come down. I’m for it. They can take the games, take the wins away. That’s fine. There’s no future in the past anyway. But to punish the university now? How does this work for the new coach? What’s fair about this for him? It’s absolutely crazy.”
He added: “This is the problem when the NCAA tries to become part of the judicial system. This should have been handled by the courts.”
Emmert said the NCAA executive committee has taken action on its own previously when it decided it wouldn’t award predetermined championships such as basketball regionals to South Carolina because of an NAACP boycott over a Confederate flag on the statehouse grounds and when it decided it would ban schools with American Indian mascots and images it considered “hostile and abusive” from postseason play pending name changes.
Emmert said in an interview with The Associated Press that he doesn’t think any comparisons can be made between the penalties Penn State received and what any other schools might face in the future. Yet he said he hopes the case will serve as a warning to other NCAA members.
“One of the grave dangers stemming from our love of sports is that the sports themselves can become too big to fail, indeed, too big to even challenge,” Emmert said. “The result can be an erosion of academic values that are replaced by the value of hero worship and winning at all costs. All involved in intercollegiate athletics must be watchful that programs and individuals do not overwhelm the values of higher education.”
Ed Ray, the executive committee chair and Oregon State president, said university presidents and chancellors let the NCAA know at a meeting a year ago that a change in the culture of college athletics is needed.
“They said, `We’ve had enough. This has to stop. We have to reassert our responsibilities and charge to oversee intercollegiate athletics,'” Ray said. “So the first question you asked is, `Does this send a message?’ The message is, the presidents and the chancellors are in charge.”
David Berst, the NCAA’s vice president for Division I, said the Penn State penalties conjured up memories of 1987, when he was the organization’s enforcement director and SMU was banned from playing football for a season the so-called death penalty.
Berst believes the penalties handed down show the NCAA is re-emphasizing stronger punishment, particularly in the area of institutional control.
“If you find yourself in a situation where the athletic culture is taking precedence over the academic culture,” Emmert added, “then a variety of bad things can occur.”
AP Sports Writers Joedy McCreary, Dan Gelston and Stephen Hawkins contributed to this report.