Senior College Football Columnist

NCAA's big move makes history for Penn State, Emmert, college sports


INDIANAPOLIS -- Nov. 5 in Tuscaloosa turned out to be an infomercial for the modern college athletic age. No. 1 LSU at No. 2 Alabama came complete with hero worship, bloated hype and the win-at-all-costs, loser-leave-town, death-match atmosphere. It was hard to miss the stakes associated with it. The homestanding Million Dollar Band took the field before the game.

In the press box at Bryant-Denny Stadium, Mark Emmert's stomach was beginning to turn. The word was out. Suddenly, the game wasn't the thing. Laptops were being opened to read the Pennsylvania grand jury presentment detailing allegations against Jerry Sandusky. Media weren't sure what was more important -- the game of the century or the scandal of a lifetime. Emmert was among them.

"The juxtaposition of those two things was pretty stunning," the NCAA president recalled Monday morning. "It is, as you could see in that game, the dark underbelly of falling under the power of King Football."

The King, as it turns out, had no clothes to go along with those trademark Coke bottle glasses, high-water khakis and white socks. Joe Paterno also has no legacy. Meanwhile, Emmert had established his Monday at an historic press conference. In announcing the Penn State penalties, a 59-year-old man less than two years on the job marked the biggest moment in his career and perhaps in NCAA history.

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"Some university president wants their name on a building," Emmert said. "I never, ever think about that. Some people may not believe that."

At a time when names are being stripped off of buildings at a record rate, any claims of grandstanding by the fast-acting Emmert will not be heard. The NCAA president, the executive committee and Division I board of directors sold the call. It was a close at the plate, bang-bang, but it was right one. Penn State must hang.

They meticulously and point-by-point detailed the NCAA's jurisdiction in ruling on a case that stemmed from criminal activity. There were six references to the NCAA constitution and five bylaws cited. The consternation over how the association could make a case out of Penn State without handing it over to the enforcement staff quickly dissolved in a 40-minute press conference.

"We don't investigate criminal behavior ... That's not our job to investigate crimes," Emmert said. "Our job is to make sure that universities are conducting their universities with integrity."

It put everyone on notice, but sealed the vault on a unique journey through the NCAA Manual that may never occur again. After all, when is the next time the coach and top administrators at a major-college are going to cover up crimes for 14 years? Hopefully never.

The penalties were fair for a school, program, a city and the Penn State community who were wrongly beholden to one man. At the same time Emmert was speaking, the NCAA was in the process of rescinding Joe Paterno's Gerald R. Ford Award given in January 2011. The award is a lifetime achievement honor for exemplary leadership. The NCAA was also busy Monday removing any mention or image of Paterno in its Hall of Champions.

Penn State will dig out someday, but it won't be soon. That was the intent.

"The sports themselves have become too big to fail," Emmert said, "indeed too big to challenge."

That was the point of the NCAA essentially dropping Penn State football down to FCS (formerly NCAA I-AA) status. The association took away 40 scholarships -- 10 per year for the next four years -- and limited the program to 65 total scholarships, 20 below the maximum. FCS allows only 63 in any given year. The school was fined $60 million. The Big Ten will dock Penn State $13 million in bowl revenue.

If that isn't enough, a four-year postseason ban begins this year. Try recruiting an Big Ten-worthy -- or even a Conference USA-worthy -- team over that period. New coach Bill O'Brien can't, won't. It's not what he signed up for. But it's not fair either to the innocents at USC who suffered crippling penalties four years after Reggie Bush left school. Ohio State players who had nothing to do with Tatoogate cannot go to a bowl this year. It is the way of the NCAA world.

The institution has to suffer even if the guilty are gone. In this case, it's about killing a culture. Paterno is dead. His alleged co-conspirators face trial or are ruined for life after ruining several lives. While Emmert denied it, the bomb dropped on Penn State was as much about sending a message to the membership.

"The message is the presidents and the chancellors are in charge," said Ed Ray, Oregon State president and chairman of the 17-person NCAA executive committee.

That has been in doubt ever since the late 1980s when the presidents were given more power. This got back a bit of their turf. For how long, we'll see. Emmert and Ray said over and over it was about changing that culture. It was a culture that allowed Jim Tressel to hide those emails, a culture that allowed North Carolina to commit academic fraud.

In this case, the committee and board acted decisively once it was determined that, in Ray's words, there was a "conspiracy of silence in wreckless and callous disregard for the children."

Oh yeah, them. Take notice, statement-spewing Paterno family.

The moment was not lost on the man sitting in the first row to the right of Emmert on Monday, David Berst. Twenty-six years ago, the moment overcame him. Berst collapsed in a crowded conference room while announcing the death penalty on the SMU campus. Berst, who was suffering from the flu at the time, recovered. It can be argued that SMU never has.

"It conjures up many memories," Berst, now the Division I vice president, said of the moment.

We're beginning to understand why one source on Sunday told that Penn State may wish it had the death penalty come Monday.

"These penalties are as severe as any I can recall," Berst added. "It will take some management by Penn State to work through this."

The penalties were just, because for the NCAA to do nothing would have signaled business as usual. It would have meant it was beholden itself to that King.

"The option of treating this as a traditional case going through nine months, 12 months of continued investigation to try and find more information," rather than relying on the conclusions of the Freeh Report was not at option, Emmert said.

"The course of action was pretty clear to me and the board, that the athletic tail is wagging the academic dog. This case epitomizes that."

The ironies are many.

 Bear Bryant is now the FBS career victory leader without an asterisk attached to his name. That would be the same Bryant who was the epitome -- along with Paterno -- of being the most powerful man, not only on campus, but in his state.

 Florida State's Bobby Bowden will officially be recognized as the new No. 1, but he had 11 of his 389 career wins vacated near the end of his career. Paterno on Monday lost more than a quarter of 409 career wins. The NCAA vacated everything from 1998 when Jerry Sandusky was first accused of abusing a child.

 The current Alabama coach is Nick Saban. With the absence of Paterno, Saban is the first name that comes to mind as a quintessential coach bigger than the university. For better or worse. Emmert hired him at LSU.

 Penn State players can transfer immediately which creates its own conundrum. Players from Penn State -- on probation -- could transfer to, say, USC -- also on probation. One school penalized, another rewarded. Both guilty in the eyes of the NCAA.

 The total financial penalty now stands at $73 million (NCAA and Big Ten combined). That essentially matches the revenue Penn State football earned in 2010. If you count the suspensions and fines, the program is essentially back to competing as an independent. That's how Paterno and Penn State made their national reputation.

The four-year bowl ban also means the Big Ten will not allow Penn State to be eligible for its conference championship game.

 Look for business at BMT Risk Management to skyrocket. Former Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe and two partners have started a company that teaches schools and teams how accountability in crisis can save a school's reputation. And more.

"You can go gambling, you can have the biggest NCAA violations but nothing would be as horrendous as what we've seen with Penn State," Beebe said.

That had to be what Emmert was thinking when he left that LSU-Alabama game last November. Football had quickly taken a back seat to that presentment.

"I read it [on my phone] on the way to the airport," he said. "It was gut-wrenching."

His actions since that day are history. The good kind.

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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