SBJ/December 12-18, 2011/Colleges

More from Mark Emmert

Photo by: SHANA WITTENWYLER
On the Penn State situation …


“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


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