The Future of the NCAA—and Penn State
The biggest takeaway from a panel discussion Wednesday night titled “The Future of the NCAA and its Membership,” I thought, came at the end. And it didn’t come from either of the biggest names on the panel: Gene Corrigan or Cedric Dempsey, both former NCAA presidents.
It was R. Scott Kretchmar, Penn State’s former NCAA faculty representative and current professor of kinesiology, who said, “I think one of the difficulties that faculty and others who love Penn State are having at this time is, the issue of knowing that we need to move forward—we can’t keep tilling the soil; we have to get on with it—but the circumstances under which we’re now suffering were so unusual that it’s very difficult to do that.
“And so there may be a period of time where we have to ask questions: Were we treated fairly? Was there any kind of justice here? But eventually, we’re going to move on. Penn State’s strong. We’re going to have a good future.”
Those were the questions on everyone’s mind Wednesday night, and Kretchmar accurately described the mood of the crowd, a mix of students and townspeople.
Look at the title of the event, which was sponsored by the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism (full disclosure: I’m a board member) and moderated by Malcolm Moran, the Knight chair in sports journalism and society. It didn’t say anything about Penn State, specifically. But that’s what most of the 90-minute discussion was about.
Neither Corrigan nor Dempsey thought the NCAA had acted correctly in assessing the most serious sanctions since SMU got the death penalty more than 25 years ago. Corrigan opened the evening by saying to the crowd, “My heart goes out to you,” and Dempsey said the first thing he would have done, had he been NCAA president, is send investigators to Penn State.
Dempsey also said that if he were Penn State, he wouldn’t have accepted the consent decree. If Penn State hadn’t accepted it, he said, “I think you’d have created an interesting dilemma within the NCAA.”
The evening had a little bit of everything:
—Kretchmar read an impassioned but analytical statement in which he questioned why such “draconian penalties” did not require “a higher burden of proof” and why, given Penn State’s decades of correct behavior, the NCAA made “sweeping generalizations of culture at odds with fact.” He also worried that the $60 million fine and other expenses might force Penn State to cut sports, something he said was at odds with the values of a university that sponsors 29 varsity sports (soon to be 31, with men’s and women’s hockey coming).
(Kretchmar prefaced his remarks as any good professor would: by reminding the audience of his bias as a former faculty rep, a 28-year employee, and someone who loves Penn State. He was just as fair-minded in his Ethics of Sports class, one of my favorites as an undergrad.)
—Thomas O’Toole, assistant managing editor for sports at USA Today, pointed out the difficulty that news organizations have in covering things like the NCAA convention: Covering the issues isn’t as fun as covering the games, or, as he put it, “no buzzer-beaters.”
—When the floor was opened for questions from the crowd, the first person at the microphone was trustee Anthony Lubrano ’82, who opined that Penn State’s culture problem isn’t with the athletics department, but with the Board of Trustees, and asked whether anyone had legal standing to challenge the NCAA ruling. The panel said no, unanimously. Others asked similar questions, with the last woman wondering whether a letter-writing campaign would make any difference. The answer, again: No.
“Bury it and move on,” Corrigan said. “You are a great school.”
The evening did not have one thing: Moran said that current NCAA president Mark Emmert was invited, but that he declined through a spokesperson to participate. Now that would have been some kind of panel.
Seriously, Emmert would have been a welcome addition. Because the one thing missing, I thought, was someone making the NCAA’s case—that Penn State did deserve to be harshly penalized. I know that’s not a popular position around here, but I’ve talked to enough people, including some who follow college sports closely, who don’t think this decision was wrong. I would have liked to see the panelists engage with someone who held that viewpoint.
Even without that dynamic, the discussion was fascinating. The panelists’ perspectives on Penn State’s sanctions, of course, were interesting, but I found myself intrigued by issues facing the NCAA that don’t have anything to do with that:
—The growing disparity between the “haves” and the “have-nots” (read, big-time programs with a football team capable of playing for the BCS championship, and everyone else).
—The likelihood that the top 60 or 70 schools will break off into a fourth division.
—Former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon’s lawsuit against the NCAA, in which he contends it’s a violation of anti-trust law for the NCAA and its member institutions to license the likenesses of former athletes without compensating those athletes. As the other panelist, Knight Commission spokesperson Amy Perko, said, this case could radically change college sports. I’d attend a panel in which the experts kicked around this issue alone.
—Whether the competitors themselves have a big enough voice. Third-string quarterback Shane McGregor, a journalism student, asked that question, and while the panelists maintained that there’s a student-athlete on every NCAA committee, it was clear to me, at least, that there’s more work to be done here.
The discussion lasted about 90 minutes, so I can’t get into all of it. But if you want more, click here to watch a video of the whole session.
Lori Shontz, senior editor