Originally posted on Rumors and Rants  |  Last updated 9/25/12

NCAA President Mark Emmert said recently that he hopes he will never have to punish another school in the manner he punished Penn State. Some may think this means he doesn’t want to ever be as harsh again, but what he was referring to was the unprecedented powers granted to him by the Infractions Committee in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

The committee allowed him to ignore the usual infractions process and move directly to punishing Penn State despite the lack of an investigation by the NCAA. This move was based largely on the existence and comprehensiveness of the Freeh Report, which was commissioned by Penn State.

Now Emmert is saying he doesn’t want to venture outside that structure again, saying “the authority I used in the Penn State case I never plan to use again.” In other words, even if another scandal on the Penn State level happens again, Emmert will use the existing enforcement infrastructure to conduct potential investigations and mete out potential punishments. This makes the Penn State situation make even less sense.

Moreover, he says the NCAA “would have ” conducted an investigation of Penn State had the Freeh Report never been written. This is the utter height of insanity, and it shows that the NCAA is failing at its most basic duties: protect athletes and enforce rules.

From the beginning, the NCAA made the case that the Penn State scandal was different from the usual rules enforcement scenarios. Scores of former administrators, conference commissioners, and former NCAA committee members were quoted in the press essentially saying that things this extreme don’t happen very often and it’s important that the NCAA respond in a substantial way.

And respond they did, though Emmert was criticized for foregoing the usual investigation process and generally appearing like a bully when announcing the punishments.

Yet only a couple of months before the Sandusky scandal broke, former Committee on Infractions member (and generally respected NCAA rep) Jo Potuto was quoted in the New York Times saying it was important for the NCAA to drop certain rules because it would allow the infractions committees to focus on more “important” issues.

What could be more important than the Penn State scandal? And at that crucial moment, the infractions committees decided that conducting their own investigations was less important than punishing Penn State as quickly, publicly, and painfully as possible (short of the death penalty, of course). This was, of course, strictly a public-relations move.

Note the phrasing of this quote again: “The authority I used in the Penn State case I never plan to use again.” The word “plan” implies that Emmert simply cannot predict if there will be a major scandal in NCAA sports again and does not exclude the possibility that he will forego the investigatory process once again in order to appear like he cares very much about rules enforcement…but only if the situation is serious enough. The word “plan” just means that he hasn’t figured out the proper situation yet.

So all the rigmarole USC had to go through to protest its ridiculous punishments for the Reggie Bush scandal can be thrown aside if the NCAA (and really the media) decides something is “serious” again. Obviously, a former assistant football coach seducing and raping young boys on university property is just about as serious as it gets. But the fact that Emmert doesn’t completely rule out using those powers again speaks volumes. This is, after all, the guy who didn’t recognize the enormous hypocrisy in allowing former Miami (FL) athletic director Paul Dee to punish USC (the infamous “high-profile compliance” quote) and re-assessing exactly how those decisions were reached. Emmert is a man who clearly avoids the appearance of weakness and admitting any wrongdoing.

NCAA bias toward expedience is even more evident when, as Potuto was quoted as saying  above the NCAA lifted any limits on basketball coaches texting, calling, or using social media to contact recruits. These are literally the exact rules that got Kelvin Sampson fired from Indiana and the basketball program punished (self-punished, to be exact). The lifting of those rules also created this extremely predictable side-effect . In other words, the NCAA chose the easier path in enforcement…again.

While Kelvin Sampson making (at the time) impermissible phone calls is by no means equivalent to Jerry Sandusky, the NCAA rationale for the punishments at both schools is. The NCAA basically reaffirmed the self-punishments Indiana created in the wake of Sampson’s violations. This included firing Sampson and essentially exploding the entire roster after the season (only a couple of walk-ons returned the next year, though this was more of a result of the firing as opposed to a specific punishment).

The Penn State punishments are technically self-imposed as well inasmuch as the enforcement process was bypassed and the punishments were created mostly by the NCAA and Penn State administrators were just asked to agree to them and papers were signed. Had Penn State not agreed, it would have forced the NCAA’s hand and probably started an actual investigation.

Both programs punished themselves (possibly prematurely) in situations in which the NCAA was already on tenuous ground, though for different reasons. Penn State officials were threatened with the death penalty (with no investigation, mind you) and Indiana officials just wanted to get out in front of the disaster created by their now-former coach.

Before the Sandusky scandal, the NCAA enforcement infrastructure was already muddled. It did not enforce rules consistently and its investigatory process was confusing at best. Post-Sandusky, the NCAA is showing that it really doesn’t care about that broken process at all. Even members of the group that compiled the Freeh Report said that Emmert was way out of line using the Report as a the basis for the punishments and that the NCAA should have done its own investigation anyway.

Problems is, the NCAA relies too heavily on self-reporting from member universities. In 2007, the NCAA only employed 25 investigators, and only three were “full-time.” So even if they had wanted to, it’s unlikely the NCAA could even have done as good a job with the investigation of Penn State as the Freeh Report and still monitored the other member institutions.

The NCAA exists in order to bring rules and enforcement to member institutions and make the games safer. Remember, it was created because several football players died and President Teddy Roosevelt felt there was a need for more oversight.

A century later, that oversight is dodgy at best. It’s questionable whether the NCAA can even be said to be overseeing its member institutions, especially when it comes to football.

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