FENNO: Beyond reproach? Mark Emmert’s NCAA really beyond repair

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

You couldn’t make up the statement that slipped out from the NCAA’s executive committee last week.

The 235 words backed embattled president Mark Emmert.

Not conditionally. Not with concern or censure or even hesitation. But unanimously.

For all the high-minded talk of reform and accountability, the 19-member group of college presidents, athletics directors and conference commissioners went all-in with a failed president and, by association, a broken system.

“In short,” read the statement from Michigan State president Lou Anna K. Simon on behalf of the group, “we demand the highest level of integrity and accountability not only from our peers but also from the national office.”

That accountability the NCAA demands of everyone from young athletes to their coaches just doesn’t apply to Emmert. Instead, he’s lauded with praise in the statement for “historic” reforms conducted “without fanfare.” That pesky University of Miami scandal isn’t directly mentioned.

Oh, Miami. That one.

The scandal, the real one, revolves around the NCAA paying convicted con man Nevin Shapiro’s attorney to depose witnesses in the organization’s 22-month probe of extra benefits being directed to Miami athletes. Even Emmert’s No. 2, chief operating officer Jim Isch, signed off on the scheme that the NCAA’s legal department unambiguously opposed.

Think about that. The NCAA abused a federal bankruptcy proceeding to force witnesses to testify under oath to bolster its plodding investigation. The NCAA had no subpoena power so it bought some. While that didn’t violate a specific NCAA rule — it’s frightening enough that such procedures aren’t written down — the move flouted common sense, basic decency and the advice of the NCAA’s counsel.

The sordid details were unveiled last week in an investigation of the do-anything investigators commissioned by the NCAA. The report, of course, absolved Emmert of responsibility for the latest in a slew of debacles from his enforcement division that are symptomatic of an organization that’s lost its way.

An organization, incidentally, he runs.

But somehow Emmert is beyond blame, above the high standards he expects of those beneath him as the NCAA has lurched from embarrassment to embarrassment since he took charge in 2010 that’s called the organization’s long-term future into doubt.

The lead investigator in the Miami case, Ameen Najjar, lost his job. So did Julie Roe Lach, the vice president of enforcement.

Emmert essentially passed the decision on his future to the committee.

And the 19 members, the same ones who helped hand Emmert the authority for the unprecedented sanctions against Penn State University in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal, unanimously patted Emmert on the back in three tone-deaf paragraphs. Under the guise of well-worn phrases about transparency and change, the group comes across as out of touch and desperately clinging to the status quo.

Think the support would be unanimous if one of their universities was under assault?

Think their 235 words make Miami president Donna Shalala feel any better?

Last week, she savaged the NCAA’s investigation in an unusual, if not unprecedented, verbal barrage from a university under threat of NCAA punishment.

Shalala accused the NCAA of orchestrating leaks and passing on obvious interviews that would help Miami’s case, not to mention the lawyer fiasco. Anger sizzles in each word. It’s not difficult to imagine this case eventually joining the long list of those suing the NCAA.

“We trust that the Committee on Infractions will provide the fairness and integrity,” she wrote, “missing during the investigative process.”

Gentlemen, start your lawyers.

This is Emmert’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along NCAA. Process and procedures can be discarded when they aren’t convenient. Accountability is something for those unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of the NCAA’s wrath.

Penn State’s athletics department is excoriated (then hammered) by Emmert for “fundamental culture problems” while his own organization’s culture issues are blamed on the path to change being “bumpy” and “controversial.” Coaches are rebelling against new recruiting rules that will allow them to text, email or instant message recruits as much as they want. All the while, the cash rolls in with $871.6 million in revenue in 2011-12 alone.

Protecting student-athletes, the NCAA’s stated mission, certainly is lucrative.

None of this surprises Ramogi Huma. The former UCLA linebacker runs the National College Players Association that advocates for college athletics reform. This is what he’s preached for years.

“The notion that the NCAA institutes a fair system has gone the way of the belief that the world is flat,” Huma wrote in an email Monday, “and that will have consequences among legislative bodies, the courts, the public and even its member institutions. The NCAA may have ultimately sealed its fate of irrelevance or extinction.”

Huma thinks Emmert’s NCAA may have finally gone too far.

In the twisted, out-of-control world of college athletics, that earned Emmert the support of the NCAA’s executive committee.

Unanimously.

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