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Emmert doesn’t ‘want to take anything off the table’ with Penn State

If you’ve followed the Freeh/Penn State coverage on CFT, you know I’ve never been an advocate for NCAA involvement in this matter -- at least as it pertains to the indication of a cover-up of Jerry Sandusky‘s crimes. But plenty of you have made your voice heard that the NCAA should act swiftly and to its fullest extent.

You might -- might -- get your wish.

In an interview on PBS’ “Tavis Smiley” show last night, NCAA president Mark Emmert indicated that the school could be facing penalties from college football’s governing body, and potentially devastating ones at that.

Here’s the quote from Emmert stirring up speculation (additional emphasis added). You can also watch the full interview HERE.

“I’ve never seen anything as egregious as this in terms of just overall conduct and behavior inside a university and hope never to see it again. What the appropriate penalties are, if there are determinations of violations, we’ll have to decide. We’ll hold in abeyance all of those decisions until we’ve actually decided what we want to do with the actual charges should there be any. And I don’t want to take anything off the table.”

Most of what Emmert says isn’t anything new, and he doesn’t pull the trigger, but it sounds like he’s okay with the NCAA levying sanctions against Penn State if violations are found. But therein lies the real question: what bylaws are being violated from the rule book? As we shared in our Freeh report reactions landing page, the NCAA could attack this in four different ways (per a Nov. 17 letter to PSU interim president Rodney Erickson):

  • Article 2.1: “It is the responsibility of each member institution to control its intercollegiate athletics program in compliance with the rules and regulations of the Association. The institution’s president or chancellor is responsible for the administration of all aspects of the athletics program. These principles of institutional control are further elaborated on in Articles 6.01.1 and 6.4 of the NCAA constitution. “
  • Article 2.4: “For intercollegiate athletics to promote the character development of participants, to enhance the integrity of higher education and to promote civility in society, student-athletes, coaches, and all others associated with these athletics programs and events should adhere to such fundamental values as respect, fairness, civility, honesty and responsibility. These values should be manifest not only in athletics participation, but also in the broad spectrum of activities affecting the athletics program.”
  • Bylaw 10.1: individuals should “act with honesty and sportsmanship at all times so that intercollegiate athletics as a whole, their institutions and they, as individuals, shall represent the honor and dignity of fair play and the generally recognized high standards associated with wholesome competitive sports.”
  • Bylaw 19.01.2: “Individuals employed by or associated with member institutions for the administration, the conduct or the coaching of intercollegiate athletics are, in the final analysis, teachers of young people. Their responsibility is an affirmative one, and they must do more than avoid improper conduct or questionable acts. Their own moral values must be so certain and positive that those younger and more pliable will be influenced by a fine example. Much more is expected of them than of the less critically placed citizen.”

The articles and bylaws are vague enough that you could look at the NCAA’s prerogative in this matter from both sides. On one hand, there’s nothing explicitly in the rulebook that deals with child-sex crimes or their coverup. By the Emmert’s own admission, the NCAA would be acting on the “spirit of the bylaw.”

But likewise, because this is such a unique case, ambiguity in the NCAA’s bylaws theoretically grants access to inquire, investigate and levy sanctions.

Just as this is so much more than a football story, this is so much more than a simple athletic violation.

Whether the NCAA will punish Penn State remains to be seen, but given Emmert’s comments, I would say the interest doesn’t solely lie with the public.