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Volume 21 No. 1
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College leaders: Restoring integrity No. 1

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.

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.

“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.”

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.
Many college officials spoke about the scandals being something that ultimately will help the NCAA’s push to clean up programs. The NCAA started rewriting its rule book in August and expects to put it into effect next year.

“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.