The NCAA doesn't yet have a case to move against Penn State regarding the child sex scandal that has rocked the community and cost multiple people, including coach Joe Paterno, their jobs and reputations, but that doesn't mean NCAA president Mark Emmert isn't feeling the same hurt and disgust that many have expressed throughout the country.
"My reactions are similar to almost everyone who's looking at this right now and it's pretty much one of stunned, disbelief, anger and frustration — all of those emotions come pouring out," Emmert said in a television interview with ESPN on Thursday. "You can't read the 23-page testimony without having your stomach turn and asking yourself, 'How in the world does this happen?'"
Emmert, who has been the NCAA president for just about a year, was the president at the University of Washington for six years and has known former Penn State president Graham Spanier for more than 20 years. Spanier, and Paterno, were both fired Wednesday for their inaction regarding a report that former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky sexually assaulted a young boy in the Penn State locker room showers. Sandusky is facing 40 counts of child sexual misconduct and athletic director Tim Curley and former Penn State vice president for finance and business Gary Schultz are both facing charges of perjury and failure to report.
Emmert noted that Paterno, Spanier and Curley were all regarded as the best in their respective positions, but that their actions have tarnished their reputations and the reputation of Penn State.
"What this clearly has done has damaged in extraordinary fashion the reputation of an institution that's one of our great universities in America," Emmert said. "And, of course, if the allegations are true, most importantly, it's allowed the damage or destruction of the lives of young people in horrible ways. It's very, very hard for us to get our arms around this, I think as a society."
Emmert said the NCAA is not actively involved in investigating Penn State, but did note that it is keeping a watch on the legal proceedings and after those have concluded, the NCAA would see if any NCAA violations had occurred. On Wednesday, the Department of Education said it would investigate whether Penn State officials violated federal law by failing to report alleged sexual abuse. The Clery Act requires colleges and universities to publish information about criminal offenses, including sex offenses, that are reported to school authorities.
"We, of course, don't get involved in criminal investigations and we will let the criminal investigation go forward until all the facts are established," Emmert said. "We'll do an inquiry into all of this and see if there are components of our bylaws that have been violated in ways that would require and allow us to take action. That's yet to be determined, but certainly it's such a shocking matter that we need to determine what our best course of action is here.
"I think this is just another example of some of the challenges we face both socially and inside athletics. It's easily the worst scandal that I've ever seen or even heard of in intercollegiate athletics. It goes way beyond athletics. I would never say that athletics was the cause of this in any fashion because it sadly occurs in other realms of our world. But it just further damages that image and makes it that much harder for us to go about our business to support young men and women in athletics."
While Emmert understands the outrage over the firing of Paterno, he said watching the reaction of Penn State students Wednesday night was a little disheartening.
"I was jus saddened by (the actions of the students)," he said. "They, of course, are young people who are reacting viscerally and emotionally and not necessarily logically. This isn't about who is going to coach on Saturday. It's not even about football. This is about people taking positions of power and trust and using them to prey upon young people and it's despicable."
Emmert said being a former president allows him to have a unique perspective on the situation and he thinks that all university presidents should use the events at Penn State as a cautionary tale for their own universities and take heed for any skeletons in their closets.
"I certainly hope, and I'm sure I suspect as a former university president, that every president in the country got up this morning and said, 'Let's make sure that we have both a culture and procedure and communication lines that if anything like this ever happens at our university, we get on top of it and we manage it in an appropriate fashion and deal with it the right way.' If nothing else, that could be a very important lesson for everyone.
"And the second thing is that it points out that you build reputations by doing the right things,. That's what Penn State's always been noted for. And those reputations are very quickly destroyed when you then do the wrong things. And it's an object lesson for all of it, that no one person, that no one program is above the responsibilities of a society and your obligations to your community."