INDIANAPOLIS — Incoming NCAA President Mark Emmert wants to get tough on rule-breakers.
He also wants the governing body to get cozier with pro sports leagues and players’ unions.
Sound like a strange combination?
Emmert said it’s all part of a bigger plan to help police everything from unsavory agents to schools that ignore the rules.
“I’m really pleased with how we’re working with the universities and colleges to try to correct behaviors that are not in the school’s best interests,” Emmert said in a phone interview Tuesday from Seattle. “Under my leadership, we’re not going to see any diminutive effect of that effort. But I like where we’re going right now.”
The direction of the NCAA is clear: Those kinder, gentler days are giving way to a new, tougher approach.
In June, after spending nearly 20 months debating harsher sanctions for rule-breakers, the NCAA hit Southern Cal with the most severe penalties in years. The football program received a two-year bowl ban — the first time any school faced that penalty since Alabama completed its probation in 2003 — and barely avoided getting hit with the first television ban since 1996.
Now, with an increasing number of high-profile programs under scrutiny — Alabama, North Carolina, Michigan, Oklahoma, Florida, South Carolina and Georgia among them — the penalty phase is getting more attention.
And Emmert thinks it is time to get tough.
“I can’t talk about any one of those cases, but the fact that we’ve got strong enforcement going on, I think, is a good thing,” he said.
It’s not just coaches and athletic departments Emmert is worried about. The NCAA has launched a widespread investigation into athletes who may have had improper contacts with agents. Two players — Alabama’s Marcell Dareus and Georgia’s A.J. Green — already have been punished.
Emmert said he is taking steps to ensure this does not become a trend. He has already contacted the pro leagues and representatives from various players’ associations and he hasn’t ruled out lobbying states to enforce their own statutes regarding sports agents. An Associated Press examination earlier this year found that many of those laws are unused.
“It’s going to take a collective effort with the leagues and the players associations, the coaches, the student-athletes themselves, to find out what the real tools are that we can use,” Emmert said. “The NCAA’s role is pulling all of the parties together. There’s no one silver bullet here.
“I’ve been involved with most of those [key] players in various stages, and it’s very early in the process. But I’m very encouraged with the progress we’re making.”
Emmert doesn’t take office until the first week of October, and he’s still meeting with NCAA employees and working out details of the transition. But at least university presidents know the soon-to-be University of Washington ex-president, who wants tougher penalties, understands the challenges of running a clean athletic program.
“It’s very complicated, a highly dynamic environment,” he said. “Around elite athletes, there are always people who see an opportunity to make money in the future, so the opportunities for those things are sort of omnipresent and what the university president and athletic directors have to do is be as rigorous as they can with what the university stands for, their values and be very attentive to it.
“And even then, sometimes, that [rules violations] happens.”
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