Senior College Football Columnist

Emmert, NCAA in position to send important message: Make Penn State pay


Penn State VP Gary Schultz and AD Tim Curley are both charged with perjury. (Getty Images)  
Penn State VP Gary Schultz and AD Tim Curley are both charged with perjury. (Getty Images)  

So now the NCAA is officially engaged in the Jerry Sandusky scandal. More than seven months after the sickening news broke, the central figure himself is in jail. There are civil suits still to be tried. And Penn State seems willing and ready to pay, lots.

But it's only now, today, that the NCAA becomes a central figure in the proceedings. In fact, the association is suddenly up to its Oxford-shirted armpits in the mess. The NCAA didn't have to get involved. Many were more than surprised when president Mark Emmert sent a sternly worded letter to Penn State's acting president on Nov. 17, 2011.

The letter seemed incredibly self-aggrandizing. The head of the country's most powerful amateur athletic body injected himself and his association into the story. But he did and now this rocket ride to hell has a whole new path, and the NCAA is carving it.

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Penn State must pay. Take your pick: TV ban, postseason ban, shutting down the program. I don't know if I'd go so far on that last one, but I have turned 180 degrees since November. That's when I wrote that Emmert had overreached when he suggested Penn State violated NCAA bylaws.

But based on the damning emails between Penn State administrators, released by CNN, Emmert now has his evidence: Former Penn State president Graham Spanier, AD Tim Curley and then-vice president Gary Schultz seem to have had direct knowledge of Sandusky's crimes.

Penn State must pay if for no other reason than this, the same key point Emmert has raised regarding misconduct since he took office 2½ years ago: When will risk outweigh reward? You may argue that a criminal and civil matter have nothing to do with the NCAA. You may argue the innocent would suffer with NCAA penalties. That's what I thought until now, when a satan sits in jail and lives lie in ruins.

Some things are more important than football, than whether a team can go to a bowl or not. Perhaps whether a team can play at all. Maybe the NCAA Manual does apply here. Maybe there's a lifetime lesson to be learned.

I've talked to experts. I read Gregg Doyel's gripping accounts from the scene back in November.

If the NCAA prosecuting Penn State keeps another monster off the streets or makes an administrator value justice more than the football program, it's worth it. A sexual assault scandal at Montana recently cost the AD and football coach their jobs. Maybe that school deserves a letter from Emmert, too.

The key words contained in the Penn State emails revealed by CNN are disgusting, if that word holds any weight at all now, given the circumstances. Spanier was reportedly worried the school could be "vulnerable" for actions by "the subject." Curley says outright that after "talking it over with Joe," he was "uncomfortable" about the next steps to be taken.

"There is a more humane ... way to handle this," Schultz reportedly wrote.

Notice that in their attempt to reduce their culpability, they don't actually use the names "Sandusky" and "Paterno." As if that's going to save them now. Curley and Schultz are charged with perjury and failing to report child abuse. For his part, though not charged, Spanier has had a spectacular fall from the heights of power and respect.

Now it's on Emmert and the NCAA. He and it must act. Emmert promised as much when he suggested last November that Penn State may lack institutional control in the matter. Never mind at that point that Jerry Sandusky was still presumed innocent, with the jury that would convict him not yet formed. Never mind that Emmert had taken the NCAA to a place it had never gone before -- essentially outside of athletics.

It's clear the NCAA, the country and the world have changed. Back then, the worst we thought was that Emmert had made a show out of the NCAA's perceived power. Congress was watching, with the NCAA's tax-exempt status dangling somewhere in the background. The public was watching, asking why the NCAA didn't do something.

Those of us who knew better, well, thought we knew better. Nothing would come it. The NCAA has no jurisdiction over a culture of enabling that allowed Sandusky to commit his crimes. But since taking office, Emmert has been both a fast talker and fast mover. A reformer on wheels. That has mostly been a good thing. But with this little stunt, it seemed then he had crossed a line -- one largely forgotten about until now.

Now that letter, an investigation and the possibility of NCAA sanction don't seem so outrageous. Based on the CNN report alone, Emmert has his proof that -- in his words -- "individuals with present or former administrative or coaching responsibilities may have been aware of this behavior." He has proof that Penn State as a living, breathing, enabling institution -- an administrative monster itself -- violated NCAA Bylaw 10.1, which deals with ethical conduct.

Sandusky is in jail, guilty as hell. All those civil suits await, with who knows what more disgusting details to come. The power trio that was at Penn State allegedly has been caught on record. A monster was knowingly aided and abetted by the school administration. Penn State must pay in ways unimaginable before Emmert wrote that letter.

Why? Because Emmert wrote that letter ... suggesting that Penn State may have violated the Principle Of Institutional Control And Responsibility.

Think of that clause at the front of the manual as the association's Book of Genesis. Before anything else happens, you believe with all your heart in the beginning. In this case, Constitution, Article 2, Bylaw 2.1.2:

An institution's responsibility in rules compliance includes "the actions of its staff members." The president is specifically mentioned.

Victims have suffered. Those in power are culpable. Now it's time for the NCAA to do the right thing, to go to a place we never thought it would: Penalize an institution for gross moral misconduct. It would send the most important message in the NCAA's 107-year history.

Football can't be that important. Ever.

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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