NCAA to Study Limits of Presidential Power in Future Disciplinary Cases

Will the NCAA’s president have another Roger Goodell moment? And if so, under what circumstances?

Those are among the questions people are asking in the wake of the NCAA’s historic Penn State penalties. And while Mark Emmert, the NCAA’s leader, says he doesn’t plan to use the Penn State precedent to extend his powers in other disciplinary cases—in short, acting more like Goodell, the NFL’s commissioner—many athletics officials have that fear.

To help allay those concerns, the NCAA plans to examine when and under what circumstances its senior leaders might take future disciplinary action outside of the traditional enforcement and infractions processes, Bob Williams, an NCAA spokesman, told The Chronicle on Wednesday.

The move follows the extraordinary steps taken this week by top NCAA leaders in punishing Penn State for its reported role in covering up child sex abuse by a former football coach. On Monday, Emmert announced stiff penalties against the university, including a $60-million fine, deep scholarship cuts, and a four-year bowl ban.

While many people praised the toughness of the NCAA’s penalties, some athletics officials raised questions about the association’s process, in which Emmert and members of the NCAA’s Executive Committee and Division I Board of Directors sidestepped the normal judicial system.

“When I got started in this business, it used to be one school, one vote,” said a longtime compliance director at a BCS university. “Now it’s one man, one vote.”

Although he stepped in this time, Emmert would be required to receive the board’s and the Executive Committee’s permission to issue sanctions in any future disciplinary case, Williams said.

“Hopefully we’ll never have another case like Penn State,” he said. “But we’re going to have a discussion about how best to handle any cases that might arise that might fall into areas like Penn State.

“There is clearly a potential for other cases where the issues at hand are the ethics and integrity issues,” he added. And while those matters may end up being processed through the traditional enforcement system, Williams said, it is possible that the NCAA could again give Emmert the power to handle things himself.

Over the next six to nine months, NCAA leaders plan to ask for opinions about how the president’s powers should or should not be extended and in what types of cases.

One president who serves on both the board and the Executive Committee said the NCAA may establish a task force to look at the issue.

Williams said the work could happen in one or both of the NCAA’s working groups that are studying changes in the enforcement and rules processes. Those groups include people from across Division I, not just presidents.

“Ultimately,” Williams said, “we hope to come up with a consensus among presidential leadership about cases of this nature being handled in a set or uniform way so that everyone knows what to expect.”

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