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Penn State Football: NCAA President Emmert Doesn’t Rule Out Death Penalty in PBS Interview

by on July 17, 2012 8:10 AM

Those thinking there’s no way Penn State’s football program will be shut down in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal can keep sweating.

NCAA President Mark Emmert, during a recent PBS interview with Tavis Smiley, has not ruled out giving Penn State the so-called death penalty.

"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," Emmert said. "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."

Added Emmert: "This is completely different than an impermissible benefits scandal like [what] happened at SMU, or anything else we've dealt with. This is as systemic a cultural problem as it is a football problem. There have been people that said this wasn't a football scandal.

"Well, it was more than a football scandal, much more than a football scandal. It was that but much more. And we'll have to figure out exactly what the right penalties are. I don't know that past precedent makes particularly good sense in this case, because it's really an unprecedented problem."

Emmert said he expects to hear back from Penn State within weeks regarding the NCAA’s letter of inquiry that it is investigating the Sandusky scandal. It’s very unlikely any sanctions would come before the NCAA had an opportunity to review those answers.

Penn State football is a cash cow that produced a $53 million net profit the last time the university had to file its Title IX report to the U.S. Department of Education. One line of thinking is the NCAA would never completely disband what is, according to Forbes, the third-most valuable program in college football.

But Emmert called this a “special moment” in the history of the NCAA. Just last August, he led a two-day summit with NCAA Division I presidents to discuss potential reform in the association. Many presidents said they were “fed up” with the amount of cheating and lack of accountability in college athletics.

According to the NCAA, proposals included:

• Rewrite the NCAA rulebook to reduce the number of rules and focus on the most significant issues.

• Improve academic standards for student-athletes and tie a team’s academic performance to participation in all NCAA championships.

• Revamp the NCAA penalty structure and increase the levels of violations.

• Refocus the NCAA enforcement staff to concentrate on major infractions.

• Strengthen the academic requirements for incoming freshman and student-athletes who transfer from two-year institutions.

Graham Spanier attended the summit, the former Penn State president who was recently implicated in former FBI director Louis Freeh’s damning report that the university’s most powerful leaders covered up child sex abuse allegations against Sandusky for more than a decade.

“What stands out, above everything else, is the unanimity of thinking among university presidents who were assembled,” Spanier said at the retreat.

“There is an unwavering determination to change a number of things about intercollegiate athletics today. Presidents are fed up with the rule breaking that is out there. We are determined to elevate the academic standards. We are concerned about the rapidly escalating costs of running intercollegiate athletics programs.

Added Spanier: “Some of these things our coaches and our boosters might not like, but we need to do what I think you are going to see happen in the next year.”

The summit and commitment to cleaning up the slime oft-associated with major rules violations in college sports can be looked at as a hallmark of Emmert’s presidency. He’s made it abundantly clear it is as such.

“There’s an enormous amount of political courage or will to do the right thing on a variety of cases and we’ve been demonstrating that again and again in recent months,” Emmert said during the interview.

“What penalty structure is put in place, if [there is finding] of violations of our rules, then decisions will not be based upon whether people want to be courageous or not.”

Nate Mink covers Penn State football and news for He's on Twitter as @MinkNate.
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