ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
More now with Dr. Mark Emmert, the president of the NCAA and formerly president of the University of Washington. Welcome to the program.
MARK EMMERT: Thank you for having me.
SIEGEL: Let me ask you first, why didn't you impose what they call the death penalty and shut down the Penn State football program for a year or so?
EMMERT: Well, we - and by we I mean myself and our executive committee and the Division I board of directors - certainly explored that option and considered it very seriously. But in the end, we concluded that the suspension of program, the so-called death penalty, was in many ways too blunt an instrument. It had a very large impact on a lot of people who have very little or nothing at all to do with this case, and similarly, we were recognizing the very good work that's been done by Penn State's new chairwoman of the board and its new president to be as open and forthright as they've been throughout this process.
And when we looked at it over an extended period of time, we realized what we wanted was a series of penalties that were tightly focused that also would provide the opportunity for the university to change its culture, to get better...
EMMERT: ...to improve upon its current circumstance, and that's the package of sanctions that we came up with.
SIEGEL: You've spoken of the culture at Penn State. Isn't it fair to say that the notion that the culture of football trumps other academic concerns at American universities, that isn't confined to Penn State? Wouldn't you say that that's true of many schools with big football programs?
EMMERT: Well, of course. And this has obviously been part of the dynamic tension of college sports for more than a century. It's one of the reasons that the NCAA was formed over 100 years ago, and it is something that universities and their communities have always sought to balance. And the message of this cautionary tale for the rest of higher education, of course, is that we simply can't allow football or other athletic programs to become such a dominant force that they overwhelm the values of the academy and the values that we all want to adhere to.
SIEGEL: Dr. Emmert, why is it that the NCAA only steps in after Ohio State football players sell their jerseys for tattoos and the coach says he didn't know, or after it turns out that USC boosters were paying a star player and now after what's happened at Penn State? Shouldn't there be, by now, some systemic reform of college football so that these things might be prevented rather than merely remedied?
EMMERT: Well, we certainly work very hard at that, and indeed, we are right now in the midst of a very large-scale reform in all of our dimensions of regulation and supervision of college athletics. This past fall, we put in place new academic standards to make sure that our student athletes are being successful as students and indeed they fit the definition of a student as well as an athlete. We are going to in actually just a little over a week vote on a new model for our enforcement process and our penalty structure and our adjudication system. And we will probably by January have completely rewritten the Division I rulebook, which is a ponderous document with many regulations in it that are downright silly and that distract from the core values of the NCAA. So we have always, as the association in its 100 years, sought to be more preventative than punitive. We nonetheless are constantly in the process of trying to keep up with the developments that occur in college sport, and our new reforms, I think, are going to be a very, very big step in that direction.
SIEGEL: You mentioned that one reason for not imposing the death penalty was not punishing young people in the football program for the misdeeds of past administrators and coaches. The family of Joe Paterno issued a statement calling the NCAA sanctions a panicked response that punishes Penn State students. In fact, doesn't barring their participating in bowl games or televised games, doesn't that punish students on the football team?
EMMERT: Well, it's certainly meant to have a punitive impact on the institution. But what we're trying to say is, look, for the next four or five years, Penn State, don't worry about going to the Rose Bowl, worry about getting your culture right, worry about finding the right balance between academics and athletics and reintegrating your athletic program into the full body of the university. This needs to be about more than just trying to get to a bowl game but about having athletics find its rightful place in the academy.
SIEGEL: But those concerns sound perfectly appropriate to lots of universities where there hasn't been felonious behavior by a former member of the coaching staff. Why not bring those same pressures to bear on the - who knows how many other universities where football is king?
EMMERT: Well, you know, the fact that football in of itself is very popular and very successful doesn't mean that the institution is doing anything wrong or egregious. You know, in this particular case, most everyone agrees that this was as egregious a behavior as anyone's seen in an NCAA case because of the nature, of course, of the criminal acts, which the NCAA has nothing to do with.
We focus so much attention on cases like this and then, when you look at the behavior that's outlined in the Freeh report around that criminal conduct, this case rises far and above most all of the other cases that we've seen. And the fact that football is popular or basketball is popular at an institution and, indeed, that a coach is held in very, very high regard doesn't necessarily mean anything wrong is going on there, but it certainly does mean that the people in those university environments need to be very, very attentive to not letting the athletic tail wag the academic dog.
SIEGEL: Dr. Emmert, thank you very much for talking with us.
EMMERT: My pleasure.
SIEGEL: That's Mark Emmert, president of the NCAA, talking with us from Indianapolis about today's sanctions against Penn State University.