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The NCAA Legal Suit Chess Match

by on February 25, 2013 8:50 AM

To quote Yogi Berra, "If the world were perfect, it wouldn’t be." In what I’m calling the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the state of Pennsylvania chess match, last week we saw legal maneuvering over the $60 million fines that are part of the sanctions against Penn State related to the Sandusky scandal. In response to elected officials in Pennsylvania approving legislation mandating that the $60 million stay in the state to support state programs for Pennsylvania child abuse programs, the NCAA filed a suit saying that the PA legislature overstepped their regulatory boundaries in attempting to control the fines. Throw in Governor Corbett’s suit against the NCAA for overstepping their regulatory boundaries in their sanctions against Penn State and the Sandusky scandal is going to continue to make money for attorneys for a long time.

I don’t know if the PA legislature can dictate what the NCAA does with the fines but it’s pretty obvious that the NCAA went over the line in setting the sanctions in the first place.

It’s also pretty clear that Mark Emmert is losing credibility with each day and with each “loss of institutional control” charge that he simultaneously launches at universities while acknowledging the same for his own organization.

In another case of what appears to be a bureaucracy whose main objective has evolved to self-preservation rather than the stated mission, perhaps it’s time for the 1200+ university presidents of the NCAA member organizations to ask for a review of the organization – and of President Emmert - by an external body.

According to (history), the NCAA was founded in 1905 with 13 member colleges. The purpose was to establish rules for the game of football which had reportedly been inconsistently regulated in what was, at the time, student organized inter-collegiate play. Rules for player eligibility and eventually financial aid, recruiting and other facets of collegiate sports have fallen under the purveyance of the NCAA. The NCAA has, over time, expanded to include other sports as well as sports for women and established divisions for competition as well as an awards and recognition program for its member organizations. Television rights, post-season play and merchandise licensing are all now regulated by the NCAA. As recently as the 1950s, the organization shared an office with the Big Ten conference and had only a part-time Executive Director.

Today, the NCAA has approximately 300 employees in a huge, four story complex that includes the NCAA Hall of Fame. That number doesn’t include the many, many staff and advisors on each of the participating campuses who address compliance with NCAA standards. It is estimated that Dr. Emmert’s annual salary is in excess of $1 million. It is rumored that college basketball’s March Madness alone brings in an estimated $750 million dollars.

Just who is it that has a sports culture problem?

As a faculty member, I have had many athletes in my classes over the years. I have learned that the NCAA eligibility requirements and recruiting regulations, while likely good in intent, are sometimes to the point of ridiculous. Who can talk to whom and when as well as what they are allowed to say and in what format are all a part of the test that coaches and athletic staff must take to work with student athletes. The formula for determining eligibility in terms of grade point average practically takes an advanced degree in mathematics. I have reported on these pages in the past that I have seen student athletes who I knew were in serious academic trouble get starting roles on the team – the NCAA rules permitted it. I have seen situations in which student athletes had to endure the sanctions of the public and the press for code of conduct issues that are confidential for other university students.

While some of have held up the number of Penn State athletes who have been arrested on campus as further proof of our “football school with a university problem,” it has been suggested that those numbers when compared to the on-campus arrests of athletes at other universities, could actually suggest that Penn State is ahead of the curve in maintaining standards of behavior. While other universities sweep their issues under the rug, we have publicly held our students to high standards.

Transparency with behavior problems and arrests. Graduation rates that are the envy of other universities. Winning teams. Not one single violation of any NCAA policy or procedure in the history of Penn State.

The term double standard comes to mind.

Dr. Emmert, if Penn State has a football culture, how would you describe the culture at the NCAA? Is it a money culture? Is it big business? Is it a CYA culture as we have seen with the recent debacle at Miami? Is it a basketball culture with horrific graduation rates and made up classes? Is it a culture that says “Do as I say and not as I do” when we can pull up statistics from LSU when Dr. Emmert was university president that show some of the lowest student-athlete graduation rates in the country?

At the very least, the admission that the sanctions against Penn State were outside of anything the NCAA had ever done previously and were outside of the NCAA playbook suggest that someone or somebody outside of collegiate athletics needs to examine what is happening in Indianapolis.

In this writer’s humble opinion, it’s time for university administrations across the United State to hold the NCAA to the same standards of integrity for which the scholarly community demands in their research, teaching and outreach. We have standards for everything from how we cite our sources to how we address human subjects in our research. Shouldn’t we demand similar standards in process but also in integrity when it comes to the organization which regulates our athletic programs?

Unfortunately with threats of the “death penalty” and the potential negative impact on our students, alumni and the local and state-wide business community, Penn State gave the NCAA permission to step outside their scope of review. Until the time that someone is willing to say “repeat of down” in this high stakes competition between Penn State, the NCAA and the state of PA, our student athletes and our university will face a situation is that is far from perfect.

Patty Kleban is an instructor at Penn State, mother of three and a community volunteer. She is a Penn State Alumna. Readers of State College Magazine voted her Best Writer of 2010 and 2012. She and her family live in Patton Township. Her views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State.
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