Emmert Needs To Channel His Inner Elliot Ness With Penn State Scandal

 Elliot Ness with Agents

By Chuck Burton

Publisher/Managing Editor

College Sports Journal

 

PHILADELPHIA, PA. — The Freeh report has successfully showed that the four men that ran Penn State during the last decade not only knew about Gerald A. Sandusky's criminal activities but did their level best to cover it up.

 

But about the only thing national news columnists, college football fans and Penn State diehards agree upon is that there's an awful lot of rhetoric being thrown around in regards to what should happen next.

 

For the NCAA, and president Mark Emmert, he has one chance to get this right, and for that he'll have to channel his inner Elliott Ness.

 

Since the release of the Freeh report, everything from the ridiculous (the Paterno family "needing more time" to look at the report) to the sublime (Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany using the crisis to attempt to consolidate his power, making the absurd suggesting that he be given the right to hire and fire coaches) has been floated out there.

 

The Paterno family's need for time to digest the full Freeh report might be somewhat justified — though it's not clear how the report is anything but a cut-and-dried account of four men trying to cover up the truth and hoping that the problem would go away, while showing how an unbelieveable number of people, from janitors to the Penn State baord of trustees, didn't do enough to protect the kids.

 

But Delany's use of the crisis to attempt to give himself powers greater than any conference commissioner is particularly reprehensible.

 

His request for such extraordinary powers seem esepcially cynical and calculating when one looks more closely at his public reaction to the scandal as it was going on — or, rather, his lack of it.

 

When the first news of the prosecutor's case against Sandusky broke in mid-November, Delany did release a statement on behalf of the conference, saying in part: "There is anger, confusion and heartache on the part of many… Our hearts go out to all those whose lives have been negatively impacted by this series of events, particularly the young victims and their families."

 

Delany also got plenty of fawning press when, in a symbolic move, he stripped Joe Paterno's name off the Big Ten championship trophy, calling it "inappropriate" to keep his name on there.

 

When it came to symbolism or public relations, Delany got praise from large chunks of the media. But when it came to getting tough against Penn State or the people that allowed the scandal happen, Delany did nothing, and the media was strangely silent about his lack of engagement.

 

When asked about the state of the Big Ten season about a month later, there was no tough talk about firing coaches, or punishment against a full member of his conference.

 

"I think it was a difficult season in part because of the Penn State situation. It was an unprecedented situation. It took everyone's attention and was very hard on everybody," Delany told The Associated Press in one of the biggest understatements this century, before rapidly moving forward to talk about the Big Ten championship game.

 

There is no evidence that Delany knew of the horrific abuse at Penn State over the last decade. 

 

But once the allegations became public knowledge, Delany didn't put any pressure on Penn State.

 

He didn't mention publicly any of his thoughts about Penn State athletic director Tim Curley stepping down, especially as Curley's role in the scandal became more and more clear in the ensuing months, even though he could have.

 

Nowhere did Delany weigh in on having Penn State to perhaps suspend its season, or even simply cancel one football game, when the allegations first came to light in mid-November, even though he could have.

 

And when it came for Penn State qualifying for a lucrative postseason opportunity — the Cotton Bowl —Delany put no pressure on the Nittany Lions to refuse the invitation, apparently fine with the message it sent that bowl competiton and BCS money for his conference and Penn State was more important than the welfare of Sandusky's young victims.

 

Delany would now have you believe that all along – had only he had the power! – he would have used it to force Penn State to fire those responsible, as if Delany were simply a victim of the evil happening on Penn State's campus.

 

But Delany was not a victim during this whole affair. 

 

His words — or lack of them — carry a lot of weight in the world of college football. 

 

The truth is he, like so many others, could have used his power to put pressure on Penn State to do something, anything, sooner, but chose not to.

 

Unfortunately, his relative silence and extremely muted response to the allegations as they came to light speaks a lot louder that this cynical play to use this tragedy to benefit one person – himself.

 

It was bad enough that he was so silent while the crisis played itself out in slow-motion, not once condemning Paterno, Curley, or Spanier by name during the last six months.

 

That silence and lack of leadership on this issue for the last six months should be plenty of justification to state what his proposal really is — a way to give Delany emperor-like powers in the Big Ten — and to quickly relegate it to the dustbin of history.

 

*****

 

With Delany apparently giving up any sort of possible high ground for action, it's up to Mark Emmert, the president of the NCAA, to channel his inner Elliot Ness, and do what is right for collegiate athletics.

 

Ness is best known for taking what was essentially a toothless organization in the late 1920s, the "Bureau of Prohibition", and making it into an operation that ultimately brought down the biggest bootlegging criminal in Chicago at that time, the infamous Al Capone.

 

To its many critics, the NCAA has been looking like a pre-Nessian Bureau of Prohibition when it comes to policing collegiate sports. 

 

At times, it has seemed like schools like Ohio State have run rings around the byzantine rules that the NCAA has made to oversee recruiting and to prevent athletes from getting improper benefits.

 

And there has been no shortage of so-called "experts" that have poured through the NCAA bylaws and have claimed that there's nothing in the rulebook for this situation.  (As if this is some sort of justification for the NCAA to do nothing.)

 

But the NCAA has always had one very large weapon in its arsenal that it has not used, but could in the right situation.

 

In order to compete in Division I athletics, a school must renew its NCAA certification every 10 years, and president Emmert has it within his control to have Penn State go through the certification process once again in the light of the allegations.

 

This could be a two-year process or longer, during which time transfer payments for TV money from the Big Ten Network to Penn State would be stopped.

 

In this "extaordinary case", using the words of Delany and other Big Ten presidents when descibing the Penn State scandal, would it be too much to ban Penn State football from bowl appearances, as well as regular-season appearances on TV or the internet, until a full recertification process can be completed, with a clear set of directives as to what needs to change?

 

I don't think so.

 

It seems like whenever any punishment of Penn State is floated as a possibility, fans and national sportswriters seem to reflexively moan about the NCAA unfairly punishing the Penn State student-athletes, the other means of attacking the NCAA for having the nerve to punish a school who let sexual crimes against boys happen for over a decade without doing anything.

 

Certainly, a bowl ban and blackout of TV coverage would be a tough pill for the student-athletes to swallow.  But, perhaps, as part of the deal, any football athletes who wished to transfer could do so without having to sit out a year.

 

Everyone forgets that while it would be wrong for the NCAA to prohibit Penn State athletes from participating in intercollegiate sports, that's not necessarily the outcome for the athletes already there. 

 

They would have every opportunity to compete for postseason opportunites, and appear on TV. Just not at Penn State.

 

Furthermore, with such a ban, just like what Ness did with his legislative body, Emmert would make the NCAA into something more than it is today – an institution that truly has the power to keep in check institutions that are out of control by hitting them where it really counts – on the balance sheet.

 

If there was ever the definition of an institution that was out of control, it was Penn State in this particular instance.

 

And make no mistake, there are no shortage of NCAA-related rules and levers that can be pulled for Emmert in this case.

 

For example, in 1997 the NCAA and AFCA, the collegiate football coaches' association, teamed up to create "NCAA Football", the marketing subsidiary of college football as a whole.

 

The NCAA could put pressure on AFCA to see if the actions of Penn State, and specifically Joe Paterno, violated AFCA's mission statement in ethics.

 

"The welfare of the game depends on how the coaches live up to the spirit and letter of ethical conduct," it states, "and how coaches remain ever mindful of the high trust and confidence placed in them by their players and by the public. Coaches unwilling or unable to comply with the principles of the Code of Ethics have no place in the profession."

 

It's no stretch that Joe Paterno's actions in covering up Sandusky's crimes might be found in violation of this rule.

 

Furthermore, AFCA also has the power to recommend to AFCA's president and the board of trustees "the suspension of membership for one or more years."

 

That could mean Penn State would be prohibited from appearing in NCAA advertisements or video games as a result of AFCA stripping Penn State of membership, as well as making them ineligible to appear on TV in an "NCAA Football" game.

 

Perhaps AFCA can recommend to the NCAA that their suspension can coincide with the recertification process — so once Penn State's recertification is complete, with a published, publicly-available plan as to how they will be moving forward, it can be lifted.

 

If AFCA does this, it's also a punishment that would also be a strong deterrent against other schools from letting athletics run wild, which is what the NCAA was, and should always be, about.

 

It also centers where this debate really should be focused — ethics.

 

It's terrible and unfortunate that all of this occurred over the last decade at Penn State, and it's sad that a place that has had so much gridiron magic over the last 60 years has had this happen to them. 

 

But if Penn State's entire athletic department isn't punished for harboring and aiding in Sandusky's crime against children, there is literally no other method to bring about change in college athletics than to have the NCAA act in this case.

 

Law enforcement can arrest perpetrators, and people can be shamed out of their jobs, or perhaps even locked up for crimes.  

 

But what is clear is that any lasting change in college athletics over the scandal can come from only one organization, and that's the NCAA.

 

And that's where Mark Emmert cannot stand idly by like so many others in this mess.  He has one shot to take action and he should take it.

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