Obviously, as much as I run my mouth here, I’m gonna be wrong about some things. But one thing I believe I continue to be vindicated about is the position I took condemning Mark Emmert’s tactics in sanctioning Penn State in the wake of the disclosures about Jerry Sandusky.
For Emmert and the NCAA, it’s not just that it’s a poor strategy to ride roughshod over established organizational procedures, although there’s little question that taking an end-justifies-the-means approach opens you up to so many questions when the next crisis inevitably appears. It’s also that as time passes and criticisms mount, things you hoped would remain hidden see the light of day and paint you in an even worse light.
As a lawsuit against the NCAA in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State winds its way toward trial, depositions in the case have prompted questions over the validity of NCAA president Mark Emmert’s threat that a committee of university presidents was in favor of shutting down Penn State’s football program.
Emmert, in testimony in advance of a trial set for next month, says there was a “very strong consensus” on the 22-member NCAA executive committee to impose a multi-year death penalty as part of the school’s punishment for its failure to take action years earlier against Sandusky, a former Penn State football assistant coach who was convicted in 2012 of serial child sex abuse and sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison.
Rodney Erickson, Penn State’s president at the time of the sanctions, said in his deposition that Emmert told him the “presidents want blood” and “would like to shut your program down for multiple years.” The depositions, some of which have not been made public but were obtained by USA TODAY Sports, include details on days of communications in July 2012 that indicate Penn State officials believed they had little choice other than to accept the NCAA’s harsh terms in a consent decree to avert the loss of its football program, a major revenue producer that helps pay for many of the school’s athletic teams.
But in recalling those days in a deposition taken Dec. 8, six days after Emmert’s, Oregon State president Ed Ray, who in 2012 was president of the executive committee, said talk of the death penalty for Penn State never gathered strong support. Ray said the committee discussed such a severe penalty twice – coming to no consensus the first time and voting against it overwhelmingly four days later.
Ray said he could not remember the vote outcome, “but if you told me it was 19 to 2, I would believe you.”
Ray, by the way, is quite the pip himself. He now admits that in gunning for sanctions to be placed on Penn State, he hadn’t bothered to do his homework.
In his testimony in the Paterno Family’s ongoing case, Ray admitted that he was unaware that he needed to prep for anything related to the Freeh Report before the organization’s executive board met to discuss possible sanctions on the University. Instead, Ray spent time in Hawaii where he was unable to read the entire report. Ray said he returned on the 19th or 20th and approved the consent decree on the 21st without actually reading the report that was the basis of those sanctions. It’s worth noting that the entire Freeh report was viewable and downloadable online for the entirety of Ray’s trip and two days before.
Nice. But let’s get back to the head man, shall we?
The gist of it is that Emmert was selling a story to Penn State that no one else on the NCAA side believed was true.
The NCAA executive committee holds a conference call for its initial discussion of possible Penn State sanctions. Emotions ran high, Ray and Emmert say in their depositions, but they give conflicting testimony as to the members’ interest in the death penalty.
Emmert says there was a “very strong sentiment” to impose a suspension of play among the executive committee and Division I board of directors. “There was, as I recall, a very strong consensus among people on the call that circumstances this egregious warranted the death penalty,” Emmert said in his deposition.
Remy, a longtime member of Emmert’s inner circle, was asked in his deposition whether there was a prevailing view about what the appropriate action would be. “I wouldn’t characterize it that way,” he said, “but there was certainly a majority sense that one of the possibilities here clearly should be the imposition of a stop in play.”
Ray says members held various views and that nothing was decided.
“Some people spoke in favor of it, or that it should be part of the package; others said they weren’t so sure. Others didn’t speak up at all,” Ray said in his deposition.
By the end of the call, there was, “No consensus at all,” Ray said.
When Lennon was asked in his deposition whether the committee supported the death penalty, he said. “Ultimately, I recall the board and the executive committee not gravitating to that response.”
Emmert also spoke to Erickson, who said the NCAA president gave him the impression that if Penn State did not move toward accepting some sort of package of sanctions, the school faced a high probability of having its football program shut down.
It’s one thing for, say, a policeman to mislead a suspect in an interrogation to obtain information about a crime. It’s another for the head of an organization to lie to a member school about the sanctions it faces as part of trying to shake it down for penalty money (not to mention the praise for action Emmert sought for himself).
The precedent set here is horrendous and looks worse with each passing day. Knowing what you know now, if you were a school president facing possible penalties for violating NCAA rules, would you believe a word coming out of Emmert’s mouth?
I’m not sure what’s harder to understand at this point – how Emmert still retains his position, or how people don’t laugh in his face when he spouts official bullshit like this:
“We’re working very hard with all of our colleagues to address the issues and challenges to ensure that college sports is still here in 2025,” Emmert said as business opened at the NCAA’s annual convention.
That doesn’t say “business as usual”, but it might as well have.