INDIANAPOLIS -- Mark Emmert, the fifth person to lead the NCAA in its 60-plus years, sat down last week with "Outside the Lines'' in a limited interview to reflect on the historic Penn State decision of a year ago and the scandals shadowing his almost three years on the job -- some involving the NCAA's own enforcement staff -- as well as looking ahead to the challenges facing college sports and its governing body.
Q: Could you talk about the Penn State decision? Why you made it? What the thought process was?
A: First of all, it wasn't my decision. That is one of the big points of confusion. This was a decision of the [NCAA] executive committee and the board of directors. I certainly participated in it, but as president of the association the president doesn't have the authority to make a decision like that.
Q: Did you make a recommendation? What was your role?
A: Well, we talked about all the available options. So sitting with my senior management team and looking at other circumstances that might have been relevant, recognizing there had been nothing like this, of course. And then discussing what the options were and putting them in front of the executive committee and talking those through. So it was a conversation.
Q: As you know, some people are upset, saying what transpired here with Penn State has never been done before. Or that it wasn't following due process. Do you understand and what is your response?
A: Of course, I understand. There's nothing about this case that anyone should be happy about. This was an awful circumstance. It had an extraordinarily bad impact on a lot of people's lives. No one at Penn State was happy about it, obviously. I can't imagine anybody feeling good about this ... And so the collective decision of the board, of the executive committee and of the university was to not go through another 18 months or however long it would take, two years, of inquiry when all the data were laying there and people were agreeing to what the facts were. So the move to go to a consent decree was something that all parties agreed to and recognized that that wouldn't make everyone happy. That wasn't anyone's expectation.
Q: This obviously was an unprecedented action because of the circumstances, but who is to say the NCAA couldn't face a similar situation tomorrow?
A: Well, we have had many events occur since then, sadly. And will have many more. The fact is that the board made clear, the executive committee made clear that it was providing this authority for this one circumstance, limiting to this one circumstance with no intention of ever doing this again. Now, I suppose if you had Penn State occur again somewhere else then the executive committee might reconsider that position, but we're all hoping and praying that we don't find ourselves in a circumstance like that.
Q: But what is the barometer should there be another Penn State? What is the level at which the committee or yourself would intercede?
A: Well, that will be up to the discretion of the executive committee. Under the bylaws of the association they have very large latitude and authority. And they could choose to exercise that if they wanted to, but I don't sense any appetite for doing that, and there is certainly not on my part.
Q: As you look back a year later, would you have handled this in any way differently?
A: No, I think the way it was addressed by the board, the way it was discussed and explored by the university -- I think was the best that could be done under very, very difficult and trying circumstances. Again, this is a case that leaves no one feeling good here.
Q: In terms of the penalties levied against Penn State, is there any discussion or thought of revisiting those?
A: Well, that again would be up to the executive committee.
Q: Wouldn't you be part of that?
A: I'd be involved in the conversation, of course. Those are again not my decisions to be made. One of the really positive things going on here is the ongoing engagement of Sen. Mitchell [former Sen. George Mitchell and his law firm] on monitoring the implementation of a variety of changes at the university. So that provides the executive committee and the Big Ten with an opportunity to on a quarterly basis see what is going on here and how things are moving forward. I think that is healthy. If at some point the executive committee should want to revisit that question they are certainly able to do that. That, too, would be unprecedented.
Q: What is your overview of the way things have gone the last year or two with the various scandals in college athletics?
A: Well, we had an unusually high number of very high-profile cases pop up in the membership. The vast majority of those have been handled extremely well. They don't make as many headlines, but I think they have been handled really well. The difficulties with the Miami case are pretty well-documented. We had some significant missteps on our end of that investigation, and we have been working hard to deal with that. Simultaneous with that, starting next month we put in place a whole new system of both enforcement and adjudication that has been worked on for about 18 months. Everyone feels very good about what it will do to address a number of issues everybody has expressed about the enforcement process.
Q: How does enforcement get through the lingering distrust?
A: Yeah, one of the things we're doing now with D-1 board and executive committee is looking at all our regulatory processes, and not just enforcement. It is also the regulatory process we do with reinstatement and with waiver decisions and all of that. We're going to work with membership broadly and say, "How do we create a model where the membership feels like the oversight of those regulatory processes is appropriate?" We're talking about, for example, does the membership want to create an ombudsman person so that there is someone who is an independent party?
Q: Yeah, he'll be busy.
A: Yes or no. Someone who could be an independent party over here that they could bring concerns about a regulatory process to without having to go directly to the person who is regulating you with a complaint. Does the board want to create something like the Senate Intelligence Committee? So when enforcement or any of our regulatory groups want to use techniques to gather information, kind of like investigative reporters, they can go to that group? Not on a case by case basis, but say "Are you OK with us doing X and Y and Z?" And they can say "Well, we like X and Y, but not Z." So there is some level of oversight in not just the process but the way they go about gathering information.
Q: Is there anything you'd like to have done differently since stepping into the job?
A: Oh yeah, I think the biggest challenge is trying to be as inclusive in all of the voices of the association as we're making decisions. I don't mean just me, but the board and all of us. So we've had great success with this reform agenda, but there has been -- it has frayed the relationships that were already strained because of the nature of the governance process ... so the governance model that Division I operates. Division II and III operate very, very nicely. Division I's governance model was created in the late '90s. It moved to this representation model with boards and all of that. It created some frictions that were probably already there. What is the role for athletic directors, for example? What is role for faculty athletic reps? How do they fit into this model? So when we started the reform agenda and established these working groups led by presidents, they had commissioners and ADs and athletes on them. So representative bodies, but they were outside of the established decision-making structure, in part because the membership thought those structures were too slow and insufficiently bold. So if I were to go back and restart that, I would work hard to bring more people into those discussions earlier, so they felt better about the outcomes.
Q: Going forward, what changes do you see in how you go about the job?
A: We'll be working much more on internal issues that probably are less exciting and probably less visible.