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NCAA Head May Be Part of the Problem


The NCAA staff in Indianapolis has taken a lot of heat in the past few months over its handling of investigations into the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State and into alleged rule violations in football and men’s basketball at Miami.

Now, questions are being raised about NCAA President Mark Emmert.

In the Penn State scandal, NCAA President, Mark Emmert, stated that severe penalties against Penn State were warranted because officials at the school, including its athletic director and its legendary football coach, had been aware of sexual misconduct allegations against former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky and had not done anything to try and deal with the situation.

NCAA President Mark Emmert

The problems with the Miami investigation has led to the firing of the head of enforcement for the NCAA, Julie Roe Lach. In the Miami investigation Lach paid an attorney for the booster at the center of the allegations to ask questions of witnesses in the booster’s bankruptcy hearing pertaining to the NCAA investigation. This was done because the NCAA lacks subpoena power to compel testimony or to acquire documents. The action was undertaken, however, against the advice of the NCAA’s own legal counsel.

USA Today has started publishing results of an investigation into the career of Emmert going back covering 20 years. It seems that this champion of propriety has been linked to problems at more than one of his previous jobs with universities across the country.

When Emmert was at Montana State in the early 1990s the school was placed on NCAA probation for what was termed a “lack of institutional control”. Emmert was part of the school’s senior management team. Ironically so was Jim Isch, who is now the chief assistant to Emmert with the NCAA. Emmert was in fact Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. The NCAA violation involved charges of academic fraud in the school’s basketball program involving an assistant coach. The charges were resolved after Emmert had left to take over as Chancellor at the University of Connecticut.

While working at UConn, Emmert was in charge of a $1 billion building project. The project was plagued by cost overruns and scandal. Six years after Emmert had left UConn the state’s then governor ordered two independent investigations into the problems. Investigators spent time looking at Emmert’s old papers. They found that in the late 1990s there were memos that showed he knew about spending problems and allegations of corruption in the work and never reported this to anyone.

Emmert later denied that he knew anything about the problems before he left Connecticut. The problem with this explanation is that Emmert’s name was attached to a handwritten memo from 1998 that detailed problems with spending and code violations. It indicated that as much as $100 million may have been lost. But by the time the two investigations concluded in 2005 Emmert had been gone for six years. Two other top university officials who worked closely with Emmert back in the period between 1995 and 1999 were implicated and forced to resign. The governor at the time called the project an astounding case of poor oversight and management.

Emmert went on to his next job as Chancellor at LSU. While there a scandal unfolded involving allegations of academic fraud in the school’s football program under then coach Nick Saban. Allegations were brought by two former university instructors (females) that non-students were attending class and taking notes for football players and that other people were typing papers for players.

Emmert initiated and headed an investigation that turned up 5 minor infractions that the school defined as secondary NCAA violations. Most of the allegations were determined to be unfounded. The school submitted a report to the NCAA, which accepted its findings.

Emmert left LSU in 2004 where he had been the highest paid chief executive of a public university in the country. Part of his salary was paid by the Tiger Foundation, an athletic fundraising group. Emmert had made Saban the nation’s highest paid football coach at $2.3 million per year.

The two instructors who initially brought the allegations sued the university claiming unlawful termination. During the litigation a deposition was taken from an academic counseling employee who supported the allegations. Their lawsuits were eventually settled for $110,000 each, although the school officially admitted no liability. USA Today is reporting that another employee of LSU at the time stated that the school investigation was a whitewash—that investigators talked with people they knew would support the preferred story and did not interview people they feared would support the allegations.

LSU subsequently moved control of its athletic academic counseling program from the athletic department to the Provost’s office. The school opened a $15 million academic facility for athletes. The size of the academic support staff was doubled. All of this occurred while the school insisted there had been no real problems.

Emmert moved on to become the President of the University of Washington. While at Washington from 2004 to 2010 he initiated a multi-million project to overhaul the school’s football stadium while money for academic programs was being cut. He also made the school’s football coach the highest paid state employee with a base salary of $2 million per year. He himself was still the highest paid university chief executive in the country.

Emmert at all of his stops championed the role that athletics can play in promoting the wellbeing of an entire school community. During his time at Connecticut he had overseen the move by the school’s football program into the top level of Division 1 and had started a project that would lead to the construction of a new football stadium.

All of this history stands in stark contrast to Emmert’s efforts as NCAA President since 2010. He has championed rule changes that he envisions will control athletic spending and restore integrity to college sports. He was a champion of free spending on athletics. At every place he worked at for a quarter century he left schools that were embroiled in controversies. Three of the schools he worked for wound up being placed on probation by the NCAA.

Yet Emmert has consistently denied that he ever had any knowledge of problems as any of these schools–no matter what evidence investigators may have turned up. He fired Ms. Lach even though his protégé and right hand man, Isch, had approved of her handling of the Miami investigation. He made excuses for Isch, who retains his job today.

Mark Emmert is a great example of why NCAA schools cannot enact true reform. University administrators are more skilled in politics than in academics or ethics. They are able to manipulate events and opinion to further their own self-interests as they jump from one job to the next. The real skill seems to be in knowing when to leave a job just before the sheriff rides in with evidence of misconduct.

If NCAA member schools really want to clean up college sports then perhaps they should consider starting at the top and terminating Mark Emmert. The old tale about the fox watching the chickens seems very applicable here.

Greg Tyler is the Library Director at the United States Sports Academy. He has also taught courses at the Academy in sports law. He worked for years in youth sports as a coach, league administrator and as a soccer referee. He has a law degree and practiced law for a number of years. You can reach him at gtyler@ussa.edu.


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