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SBJ/December 12-18, 2011/CollegesPrint All
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“Everything that’s going on at Penn State is still allegations. We don’t know what the facts are yet. But if one assumes the allegations are correct, you see in that particular case a program at one of the great research universities in America, a program that has been noted for decades for having done everything right, a program that has never had a major NCAA investigation in its athletic department or its football program, and yet today it is damaged dramatically by what’s happened there. It points out two things. First of all, college sports have never been more popular; more people are watching than ever. And, it becomes a window into what your school is all about. Rightly or wrongly, it is the way that many people judge you. They see what’s happening on the football field or how your students are behaving or your coaches are behaving, and that becomes a proxy for who you are in the eyes of so many folks. That’s a very, very powerful thing. It better reflect then, very closely and very tightly, the values that you want to show. It better be, very closely and very tightly, balanced with the rest of the messages that you want to project to the world if it is, in fact, a world unto itself. If it is perceived, and inside itself, as being out of control of the president, of a board, of the rules of civil society — if it thinks it is above and beyond all of that — now you’ve got some pretty fundamental problems. I think it is causing university presidents and boards all around the country to pause and say, ‘What’s the right relationship here? How do we make sure that we’re deploying athletics in a way that reflects who we are, what we’re about and what’s important to us?’”
On athletics and academics …
“Every university president wants to have both of those things working synergistically. People may come to you to watch a football game, either electronically or in person. They may come to you because of a basketball game, either electronically or in person. How do you use that to tell the story of that university? How do you use that to let people know about all the other great things that happen on your campus and what that university stands for? You can do it through the personification of the program. You can also do it literally. It’s an incredible medium through which you can tell your story. The world, rightly or wrongly, for better or for ill, pays a heck of a lot more attention to a football team than they do to Nobel laureates. At Washington, we had six Nobel laureates. If I held a party in the middle of Husky Stadium at the University of Washington, I’d get a few thousand people. I wouldn’t get 75,000 people, but I’d get a few thousand people. But if I honor those Nobel laureates at halftime of the Cal game, now I’m going to have 75,000 people all seeing my Nobel laureates.”
Lessons from Penn State …
“Any place in society where you have … symmetries between people who have power and authority and people who are vulnerable, where you have high levels of trust between those people, and then you surround it with secrecy or privacy, you are at risk for bad things happening — in a corporate world, in a religious world, in the volunteer world, in universities and sports programs. Athletic programs are especially susceptible to all three of them. We have to work very, very hard to make sure that those kind of environments don’t exist.”
On the potential for the death penalty at Penn State …
“It’s premature and not particularly helpful to speculate. We have not launched a formal investigation. I’ve issued a notice of inquiry to them. We’ve asked them some specific questions. We’re looking at the issues of institutional control, unethical conduct. Penn State’s been fantastic in working with us.”
How will you manage this from an NCAA perspective?
“Once we move into an inquiry or investigatory phase, we’re not going to clamp down on it. We’re trying to do the opposite. We’re trying to be as open and forthright as we can about all these things. We’re not going to talk about any details from any investigations. Just keep people informed as best we can about where we are, what the progress is, what the stages are. Penn State’s made it clear that they want to do this as openly as they can, too. It’s clearly in their interest to do so. There will be this drip-drip-drip effect, but I think also that people are going to be impressed with how forthright the institutions are going to be with it. We’re going to try to do the same.”
— Compiled by John Ourand
The first large-scale gathering of college sports officials since the child sexual abuse scandals broke at Penn State and Syracuse revealed a group that seemed shell-shocked, remorseful and exhausted, but also determined to restore the country’s faith in their institutions.“We’re deeply concerned, sick and tired of all the scandals,” said NCAA President Mark Emmert. “We want to restore integrity. We want to install confidence in collegiate sport.”
Attendees at last week’s IMG Intercollegiate Athletics Forum in New York did not shy away from the troubles affecting the college sports landscape.
Rather, college executives pledged to maintain even stricter oversight on their athletic programs to keep these types of problems from mushrooming into full-fledged scandals.
Emmert was speaking about his plan to rewrite the NCAA’s rule book, a move designed to get rid of “picayune, silly rules” that have defined the NCAA.
But his weariness over athletic scandals was a sentiment echoed by college leaders throughout the week. It was clear that some university presidents view the scandals as a byproduct of athletic departments that have become too big, and talk centered on the best ways for universities to retain control over their biggest moneymakers.
“If a faculty member with a child had done that same thing, or a dean or a vice president or a president, I don’t think it would have even been a close call that it would have been turned over to the police and be handled as a criminal manner,” said John Lahey, president of Quinnipiac University, of the Penn State scandal.
Emmert said the NCAA has not launched a formal investigation into the Penn State situation. The association has issued a “notice of inquiry” looking into issues of institutional control and unethical conduct. The issue of institutional control at Penn State is one that college officials are monitoring closely.
“What [the NCAA is] looking at are issues related to institutional control,” Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said. “I’m not really surprised by that.”
The integrity of collegiate sports has been damaged by scandals, UMass’ Holub said.
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“Over the next 12 to 18 months, we’re going to see a renewed effort, not only on the part of the NCAA but on the part of institutions, to restore the integrity of collegiate sports, which is something that is very necessary,” said Robert Holub, chancellor at the University of Massachusetts. “It’s been damaged. There’s no doubt that it has been damaged.”
The NCAA’s focus on rewriting its rule book is an attempt to hold athletic department officials accountable, Emmert said. Clemson President James Barker is heading up the effort to rewrite the rules.
“We want to focus our rules and attention on the things that count, which are the things that our mamas taught us: You don’t lie, you don’t cheat, you don’t steal, you don’t cheat on your classes — the things that really undermine integrity,” Emmert said. “We’re actually dealing more aggressively with the adults in the room and with the people who are engaged in behavior that really destroys confidence in college sports.”
The call for returning integrity to the college sports landscape went beyond the Penn State and Syracuse scandals. Chris Plonsky, women’s athletic director and director of men’s and women’s athletics external services for the University of Texas, said a number of schools appeared to be openly rooting for her school’s Longhorn Network to fail.
“I think it’s very critical, more today than ever before, that we see some collegiality in whatever moves forward for college athletics,” she said. “This has been a painful, stinging two years. … I have no interest in preventing somebody else from doing good, aggressive business if it helps their institution and helps their brand. I would hope that we would receive reciprocity in that attitude.”
That call for collegiality and integrity comes after a year that saw several other high-profile scandals. Emmert reflected on the past year, underscoring why the planned rules are needed.
“Last year when I was here, if I stood in front of you and said the head coaches of Penn State, Ohio State, North Carolina and Tennessee would all lose their jobs because of NCAA infractions or other misbehavior — and their universities would fire them for those purposes or the NCAA would act to that same end — you all would have said, there’s no chance in the world that’s going to happen. Universities are stepping up to this because they need to, because it’s so important to them. We’re stepping up to it because we need to because it’s so important. This is an enterprise that is uniquely American, it’s critically valuable to all of us and we’re going to do what we have to do to protect it.”
Staff writer Michael Smith contributed to this report.
Most people have an opinion about how Penn State and Syracuse handled their recent crises.
University of Texas President Bill Powers said his takeaway from the scandals was to be more forthcoming.
“The moment something goes wrong, you have a press conference about it and get it out and deal with it,” Powers said. “Almost all the problems that we’re seeing were exacerbated by not getting them out and dealing with them.”
Former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer agreed.
“When you see something coming, the right move is to get out ahead of it, to see it coming, to know when the announcement is going to be made and to work collegially with whoever is bringing it forward,” he said.
Vada Manager, senior vice president of APCO Worldwide, said he was surprised that Penn State, in particular, seemed so unprepared.
“It appeared that there was clearly a lack of preparation,” Manager said. “If you have an investigation going on for two years, and your administrators and people are being interviewed by law enforcement officials, you would appear to have been ready when the time comes.”
Syracuse Athletic Director Daryl Gross defended his school’s response.
“If there’s a positive out of it it’s that there’s an awareness about the policies you need to put into place to have your institution handle these issues,” Gross said. “You can be pre-emptive and proactive, and you can put all these things into place, but you’ve got to be nimble when there’s a crisis. Obviously, there’s nothing in the manual that talks about the kind of issues that have been coming up lately, but I felt that, as an institution, we were prepared to take it on.”
— John Ourand