Q&A: NCAA boss Emmert addresses Penn State, UNC charges, upcoming changes


NCAA president Mark Emmert was in Seattle on Tuesday getting a little R&R after what has been memorable summer -- but for a lot of the wrong reasons.

On July 23, the NCAA handed down unprecedented sanctions against Penn State's football program in the wake of the trial and conviction of former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky on charges of child sexual abuse. Those penalties included a $60 million fine, a four-year postseason ban and a reduction of 40 scholarships over the next four years.

The decision was met with criticism on many fronts, including those who felt Emmert's office had exceeded its authority by relying very heavily on the Freeh Report to make its decisions. The report, commissioned by Penn State, provided a withering indictment that the leadership was more interested in protecting the brand of the university and the legacy of coach Joe Paterno than in protecting innocent children.

Despite that criticism, Emmert steadfastly maintains that these extraordinary measures were required by an extraordinary set of circumstances, a position that is being backed up by the NCAA's executive committee of presidents.

Still, with a high-profile investigation at Miami ongoing and the possibility of an academic fraud case looming at North Carolina, some officials in college athletics wonder if Emmert's office eventually will flex its enforcement muscles again as it did in the Penn State case.

Emmert answered these questions and others when I visited with him via satellite for a segment on The Tony Barnhart Show:

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Question: Does the Penn State case and the way it was handled represent a sea change in the way the NCAA will conduct its business in future infractions cases?

Answer: This is simply a case [where] none of us has ever seen anything like it. It was so unique in so many ways. We all keep using the word "unprecedented," because we want it to be unprecedented. We don't ever want to deal with anything like this again. I hope we never have to pull out that level of action and follow that model of authority again in my career.

Q: It only took 10 days after the release of the Freeh Report for penalties to be handed down to Penn State. That's a quick decision. Are you satisfied that the school received due process in this case?

A: This wasn't handled as a traditional infractions case. It was preceded of course, by the Freeh investigation that was probably the most exhaustive study that's ever been conducted of its kind at a university. Certainly much deeper and broader than anything that we at the NCAA could have done, providing everyone including the university and the Board [of Directors] with the kind of information they needed to go forward.

Q: Do you appreciate the fact that some officials in college athletics are not completely comfortable with the way this case was handled?

A: We wound up in a place that while I understand obviously why people can disagree about the outcome, it was the right way to handle it. It was a difficult, difficult day for intercollegiate athletics, but it was the right thing to do.

Q: Did your office exercise powers not granted to it by the NCAA governance structure?

A: Well, those powers aren't granted to my office. That's why I went to the executive committee, which does have that power and authority, and asked them specifically for their opinions and their views. And the collective wisdom of that group of presidents was that in this one singular case, it was appropriate and indeed necessary that we acted the way that we did. 

Q: If the reporting is accurate it appears there may be a major academic fraud case building at North Carolina. Can we expect the NCAA Executive Committee or your office to streamline the process as it did in the Penn State case?

A: Certainly, my conviction is that we will always rely on our established investigative principles and our practices in our normal penalty structure in all but the most extraordinary cases. I think most everyone in the sports community recognizes that the Penn State case as it came out and as the facts were established was like nothing anyone has ever seen before. 

Q: In October, the NCAA Board of Directors is expected to approve some sweeping changes to the enforcement process. Will it be a game changer in dealing with people who break the rules?

A: We're working hard on rewriting our rulebook structure. You and I have chatted about this before. The Division I rules are too complicated. They have some things that are irrelevant and frankly, silly, in them. It's taking a long time to work our way through that 465-page book, but we're making great progress there.

Q: And among those changes will be new rules to make head coaches personally responsible for what happens in their programs. Is that correct?

A: That is absolutely correct. A part of what this is all about is saying to the adults in the room, "Look, you're supposed to be in charge. That's your job. That's your business. You're compensated, sometimes very well, for it. You need to know what's going on." The idea that you can simply say you had no idea or that's somebody else's fault ... the person at the top needs to be held accountable in just about any position and coaches need to know what's going on inside their programs.

Q: The FBS level of college football is getting ready to sign a new deal for a four-team playoff that could be worth in the range of $600 million per year. How can it generate that much money and still not be able to give student-athletes an additional $2,000 per year to cover the full cost of attendance?

A: We've got to find a way to cover the real cost, the full cost of being a student. This has nothing to do with pay-for-play, as you know I've said 100 times. This has to do with recognizing that student-athletes don't have time to have part-time jobs like most of us did when we were in school. These are very, very demanding roles they're in and we need to make sure that we're covering all of their legitimate costs of being a student. I think and I hope that this coming academic year we'll be able to reach an agreement among the universities and conferences to move forward with that model.

Q: With all of the off-field problems in college athletics, it is sometimes tough to be optimistic about the future. Are you optimistic about the future?

A: I'm more optimistic, perhaps than ever. The resolve and commitment of the presidents about all these reforms we're talking about ... and while they are not big splashy things that the media pays a lot of attention to, they're going to change the nature of intercollegiate athletics. Intercollegiate athletics has a stunningly positive impact on over 400,000 kids per year. That's what I love and that's why I do what I do.

Watch The Tony Barnhart Show on Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET on The CBS Sports Network.

Tony Barnhart is in his fifth season as a contributor to CBSSports.com. He is a college football analyst for CBS Sports and The CBS Sports Network. Prior to joining CBS he was the national college football writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 24 years. He has written five books on college football.

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