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Senior College Football Columnist

Sandusky scandal gave Mark Emmert the hammer, but will he use it again?

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The Sandusky scandal at Penn State changed college athletics forever. (Getty Images)  
The Sandusky scandal at Penn State changed college athletics forever. (Getty Images)  

Mark Emmert has the weapon stashed somewhere. We've seen its destructive power. When nailed down on the subject of whether he will ever drop the bomb again that almost killed Penn State football, the NCAA president hesitated -- just a bit.

"If you're asking me: Will there be a case like Penn State in the next 10-15 years? My answer is, 'I have no idea. I certainly hope not. We all would hope and pray not,' " Emmert said in September to a group of Division faculty athletic reps. "None of us has the capacity to predict what will come. But in my 30 years working in higher education, I have seen one case that would justify these extraordinary actions and that was it."

In the year since the grand jury's presentment against Sandusky, college athletics has changed forever. We now know it is possible for a non-profit organization with voluntary membership to burn a football program to the ground.

Emmert's weapon came this close to shutting down Penn State football in the wake of the Sandusky scandal. Even short of that, Nittany Lions everywhere may one day wish for the swift clean mortal blow of the death penalty.

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In late July, Emmert -- with power granted by NCAA board of directors and executive committee -- oversaw the handing down of unprecedented penalties. Penn State football is just stepping over the hot coals of a four-year bowl ban and crippling scholarship losses that will make it equivalent to an FCS program.

On this year anniversary of that presentment, it's time to ask who's next? Will there be a next? Emmert says no. Almost. He can't predict if the entirety of upper management at a school could allegedly conspire to hide heinous crimes.

"It was unprecedented," Emmert said. "I want to make sure everyone understands it is not an indication of a shift in approach or shift in philosophy."

The NCAA was able to act because it basically used the Freeh Report as its own, asking Penn State to sign a consent decree. While there was push-back from Penn State trustees after the fact, the school figured to cut its losses by agreeing to the penalties rather than take its chances with a full-on NCAA investigation.

That, Emmert said, wouldn't have commenced after all the legal issues were resolved and may have lasted a year. A recent Chronicle of Higher Education story stated that Penn State largely was unaffected by the penalties so far. The football team is a surprising 6-3.

"Other than perhaps the SMU case, we had never seen anything like this," Emmert said.

But it does create questions at places like Montana, where the AD and coach have been let go during a sexual assault scandal. The president at Concordia University-Chicago recently wrote a letter to constituents explaining why the baseball coach was fired two years ago -- "suspected inappropriate sexual conduct."

A police report obtained by a newspaper revealed disturbing details. No charges were filed against the coach.

On the Florida A&M campus, they continue to deal with the death a band member Robert Champion, killed in a hazing incident. The band director was dismissed. The school's president has resigned. The band has been suspended for the academic year.

The school's response to a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the parents has essentially been: Champion should have known better.

"That [hazing death] should never happen to anyone, but what can you do about it now?" said Kenneth James, a FAMU graduating senior as he walked across campus this fall. "Go at the school for individual negligence is crazy? By doing that you're tarnishing the school even more."

Are these openings for Mark Emmert's new-look NCAA? He says no.

"I asked for and received authority to act in this one specific case, period," he said, referring to Penn State, "not the authority beyond this case -- recognizing unequivocally this was the most egregious circumstances any of us had ever seen, and that authority would be put back on the shelf in hopes that it would never ever be pulled out again."

In the three-plus months since the Penn State penalties, I haven't met a college administrator who agreed with Emmert's actions. They feel the penalties did set precedent, no matter how many times Emmert says Pandora's Box was not been opened. Administrators are worried about the NCAA overstepping its boundaries.

Already, Emmert is well on his way to a reform agenda that began at an August 2011 presidential retreat. A new penalty structure was announced this week. Four-year scholarships are now optional, though that piece passed only by two votes. Resolution about a stipend for players expected at the 2013 NCAA Convention may be a referendum on Emmert's reform agenda as a whole.

"I think it ought to be clear what the NCAA did at its core," said Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman said. "It entered into an agreement with Penn State. If that's true, I'm not going to stand back and critique an agreement between two parties about what's going to happen. It's not Pandora's Box. Some of the comments that were made about it made it larger than that."

In Montana, there are allegations school officials ignored wrongdoing to protect the football program. The Justice Department is investigating. Concordia did act to fire its coach, although we are only learning details two years later. FAMU is a comparable case to Penn State -- at least -- because a death was involved and the band is tied directly to athletics. No football, no band. In fact, the "Marching 100" might be more famous than the Rattlers.

"The band has a big influence on the campus," James said. "They actually bring the school spirit. Everybody looks forward to the band. They should never ban the whole band.

"But you should set discipline."

Emmert says the NCAA has "struggled with this whole notion of institutional integrity." In essence, does the NCAA need a broad-based rule governing what happened at Penn State?

Or should we trust that Emmert's ultimate weapon will never taken out again?

"If something heinous happens in 10 years," Emmert said, "who knows?"


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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