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Should the NCAA President Step Down?

Calls for Mark Emmert’s resignation have grown louder in the past 48 hours, following the release of a report that sharply criticized the association’s investigation of the University of Miami.

On Tuesday the NCAA delivered its long-awaited notice of allegations against the Hurricanes, charging the university with a lack of institutional control for reportedly allowing Nevin Shapiro, a longtime booster and convicted Ponzi-scheme operator, to run wild over its program.

Remarkably, some critics argue, the NCAA failed to interview Paul Dee, Miami’s former athletic director, before issuing the charges. Mr. Dee, who was the university’s general counsel before taking over as AD, died last May, nine months after the NCAA began its official investigation.

Until recently, Donna Shalala, Miami’s president, had been silent on the accusations, which include Mr. Shapiro’s paying tens of thousands of dollars to dozens of Miami football and basketball players, and entertaining them on his private yacht.

But in a statement on Tuesday night, she argued that many of the allegations were unsubstantiated. And she took a swing at the NCAA for failing to speak with Mr. Dee, whom the program reportedly offered up.

“How could a supposedly thorough and fair investigation not even include the director of athletics?” she said.

She wasn’t the only one wondering. Privately, some lawyers who handle NCAA cases described the association’s failure to interview Mr. Dee a “phenomenal miss.”

“He may have been as much in the dark as anyone on Shapiro,” one lawyer told me, “but he should have at least gotten a chance to explain that.”

This week’s report criticizes the NCAA’s ethical lapses in the Miami case, but the Dee miss seemed even bigger. “It’s easily the worst of the problems I’ve heard,” the lawyer said.

Some critics have teed up Mr. Emmert for failing to take personal responsibility for the enforcement problems. (I was on an ESPN show on Tuesday with two of those critics, Jay Bilas and Dana O’Neil, who cover college basketball for the television network.)

They argue that while Mr. Emmert helped establish tougher accountability measures for head coaches, who could soon be penalized for problems their assistants create, he passed the buck when facing problems himself, ousting his chief enforcement officer, Julie Roe Lach.

Inside NCAA headquarters, some people described a growing morale problem. An unusually heavy turnover has left people on edge. And the enforcement staff seems particularly adrift, having lost at least five investigators or directors in a recent span.

Over the past few days, I’ve spoken to a handful of college presidents, some of whom raised concerns about the NCAA leader’s future.

“It’s an open question among some people about whether he can still do the job,” said one college chief who is active in NCAA leadership.

And the concerns go beyond Miami. “Mark has been a very visible champion of forceful change,” this person said. “There are people now who feel disenfranchised.”

But for as much criticism as he has faced, Mr. Emmert deserves credit for pushing head coaches to clean up their programs, other leaders say. And for those coaches who can provide clear evidence that they had appropriate oversight, including educating their assistants on the rules, they’re not likely to lose their jobs even when their subordinates stray.

The same logic is likely to spare Mr. Emmert. We learned from this week’s report that the NCAA had procedures to help guard against inappropriate activity by its staff. When certain people didn’t follow protocol, they lost their jobs—but not him.

The question is, What kind of culture is Mr. Emmert building, and what expectations do his constituents have, particularly around investigations? He says he’ll seek input on the future of the enforcement operation in coming weeks. But even one of his allies suggested to me this week that he’d better make quick work of it, as the membership is restless.

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