Senior Writer

Losing hope Emmert on mark with plan to clean up NCAA


HOUSTON -- The NCAA has had bad years, bad months, even bad weeks. Seldom have things been so lawlessly and immediately upside down that the association's president had to comment about a thoroughly bad Wednesday.

But there was Mark Emmert up on a podium inside Reliant Stadium on Thursday, facing a small gathering of Final Four media kind of knowing what was coming. In the previous 24 hours, HBO had been the platform for four former Auburn players claiming they had gotten cash under the table. In Columbus, Ohio, Jim Tressel was naming an interim coach. The Senator will miss the first five games of next season, at least, for essentially hiding emails that allowed five of his best players to compete while ineligible.

Back over on, a former Texas A&M assistant was recounting how he had been approached by recruiting service impresario Will Lyles about the services of cornerback Patrick Peterson. Alleged asking price by Lyles? $80,000. Peterson eventually ended up at LSU, which happened to employ Emmert as chancellor from 1999-2004.

Proof, again, that everyone is either part of the cheating crap storm or getting hit by it. Being the NCAA president has little official power except, sometimes, to climb that podium to answer those Final Four media questions. His excuse for collegiate sports' rampant wrongdoing, for the moment, is that he's been on the job for only six months. He inherited a lot of the sludge. But we need him, we need something to put things right. Ask the hack next to you in the media work room. He/she can't remember when outlaws have ruled college athletics to this extent. Ask the man in the street, public perception of the NCAA might never be more negative.

"It's absolutely critical that we get our arms around the integrity issues rapidly," Emmert said.

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Some of it isn't even the NCAA's fault. The public doesn't realize the enforcement department can't possibly keep up with the workload. Without some direct help from the NFL and NFLPA, the sleazy agent issue may be out of control.

"These kids don't know any better," said David Irons Sr. who had two sons play at Auburn and in the NFL. "They're not thinking as grownups. My thing is you have to find a better way to regulate agents and runners for agents."

But how? Runners aren't going away for the same reason the guy in the nosebleed section of Reliant is willing to pay three figures on Saturday. Money drives everything. Emmert can't help but realize the Final Four itself is a metaphor for the current state of collegiate affairs. You have the Black Hat side of the bracket (UConn and Kentucky) and the Good Guys (VCU and Butler). UConn's Jim Calhoun is serving a three-game suspension next season after the program was put on probation for recruiting violations. In the NCAA's eyes, this is John Calipari's first Final Four. His other two appearances with Massachusetts and Memphis have been vacated.

"You're to make sure you're conducting enforcement in a way that provides some sort of constructive fear and a probability of being caught," Emmert said.

But how? Until the risk outweighs the reward, nothing will change. Those suspensions obviously haven't shamed Tressel and Calhoun. The work on closing the loophole that allowed Cam Newton to play -- and win the SEC, the Heisman and national championship -- is still in the works we were told on Thursday. Third parties are an emerging threat to take over football. Basketball, it should be noted, is already a lost cause in that respect. Student-athlete welfare is an issue when 13 players at Iowa end up in the hospital after a workout and the leading cause of death among Division I football players has nothing to do with playing a sport.

In January, Emmert himself felt threatened enough by angry Kentucky fans to use body guards during the annual NCAA convention. Those fans felt justified to make their death threats because recruit Enes Kanter has been declared permanently ineligible.

"I really can't quote them without having them bleeped out," Emmert said.

On Tuesday, the Fiesta Bowl's own in-house report peeled back the layers on years of flat-out financial corruption.

"Utterly unacceptable," Emmert said.

So unacceptable that Emmert added, "[this] shouldn't be used as a broad-based indictment of all the bowls. I don't think it will materially affect all the other bowls." Just when the idea of the NCAA running the Division I-A postseason is starting to sound encouraging.

If the Final Four is the climax of the college sports season then -- to quote a great man -- bring lawyers, guns and money along with your seat cushion. The storm is just beginning to build. Bruce Pearl. Tressel. Ohio State. Agents. Auburn.

College athletics regularly features lies and the lying pack of liars who tell them. It was suggested to Emmert that this is a "watershed" moment, a tipping point in the history of cheating.

"There is nothing to indicate that's anything other than happenstance," the president said.

And we had such high hopes for you Mark.

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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