Mark Emmert's swift, bold action against Penn State might mark a new era in NCAA enforcement

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo Sports

Across his 20 months as NCAA president, the frustration continued to mount for Mark Emmert, multiple sources close to him say. The job, he's found, is as much spokesman as statesman. Too little power. Too much blame.

Emmert saw basic initiatives such as providing athletes with a $2,000 stipend to cover the cost of living stall out in the NCAA system of committees and votes. He's watched seemingly simple infractions cases, such as the one involving University of Oregon football, drag on.

In the meantime, he became the public face in the center of the dartboard, bashed for the NCAA's inaction, corruption and hypocrisy. Yet he can fix nothing. He can do little.

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NCAA president Mark Emmert will announce sanctions against Penn State. (AP)

So now comes Monday morning in Indianapolis, when in a show of force Mark Emmert, the fifth president of the NCAA, will seize long-dormant power and announce significant sanctions on the Penn State football program for its role in the Jerry Sandusky sexual molestation crisis.

Sources say the school will continue to field a team. However, it will deal with heavy scholarship losses over the next three-to-five years as well as a multiyear ban in postseason competition and multimillion dollar financial penalties.

The standard line rippling through college sports Sunday is that while Penn State will be spared the death penalty, the penalties will make them wish they weren't.

The decision came almost solely from Emmert, sources say. He used the significance of the scandal to allow the NCAA Board of Directors to provide him with powers not seen since the iron-fisted Walter Byers ran the organization from 1951-1988.

"Unprecedented," said one NCAA source. "This is just unprecedented."

[Related: Charles Robinson: Staggering penalties likely for Penn State]

Rather than allowing the tedious infractions process to churn on for years, there was no NCAA investigation, no hearings, no letter of inquiry, no reports, no chance for formal response, no nothing. Rather than wait for criminal cases and every last bit of evidence to trickle in, this was Emmert reading the school's own Freeh Commission report and deciding enough was enough.

"When he took the job he thought he could push things through," said a NCAA source close with Emmert. "He's become frustrated with how the organization works. It's slow, bureaucratic. Mark has tried to change that."

The gray-haired, congenial, 59-year old former campus CEO at Washington and LSU has been focused on Penn State since Sandusky and two school administrators were indicted Nov. 5, 2011. That night, while attending the LSU-Alabama game in Tuscaloosa, he just shook his head with a look of disgust when asked for an initial reaction.

Within days, however, he laid down the possibility of NCAA punishment, which would be an expansive move considering the scandal involved no current or former players and only benefited the Nittany Lions program by avoiding negative publicity that could have impacted recruiting.

[Related: Pat Forde: Penn State should donate football profits to child-abuse causes ]

Now he's following up, sources say. He took precise political action, gaining approval from the Board of Directors, to use broad ideals spelled out in the NCAA rulebook that call for "intercollegiate athletics to promote the character development of participants, to enhance the integrity of higher education."

The goal of the sanctions is to pound the NCAA's fist down and declare that what's wrong is wrong. On a case this terrible the organization simply can't be soft, can't worry about procedure, can't rely on the same old failed methods of enforcement, Emmert is arguing, according to sources.

This was an unheard of scandal, with what the Freeh report concluded was a breathless cover-up at the highest levels. Now comes a similar trailblazing response from the NCAA.

How making it less likely that Penn State wins football games provides relief for Sandusky's victims or helps in the fight against child abuse is open to debate. Cutting scholarships just means some players who never met Jerry Sandusky, let alone Joe Paterno, don't get scholarships. There will be understandable anger coming from State College. Harming the football program impacts innocent players and coaches.

That's how the world works, of course. The kids always pay for the sins of the father. The ripples of Penn State's concealment of Sandusky were felt far and wide. Now the punishment will as well. Although, it's worth noting, losing a few more football games isn't the end of the world.

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Penn State coach Joe Paterno, right, and president Graham Spanier, left, concealed child abuse. (AP)

Former athletic director Tim Curley and former vice president Gary Schultz still face criminal trials for their roles. So they may pay directly. Paterno, the late iconic coach, was fired, disgraced and had his statue outside Beaver Stadium taken down Sunday.

Then there is Graham Spanier, the former president who was prominently blamed in the Freeh report. A source described Emmert as feeling "betrayed" by Spanier, who served closely with Emmert on multiple powerful committees and boards over the years.

[Related: Eric Adelson: Joe Paterno statue debate misses the point]

The attorney general has not ruled out indicting Spanier. In the interim, the program he too often failed to monitor will pay for his failures.

Emmert's power play Monday will generate debate across the country, including, perhaps most intensely, inside the upper reaches of the NCAA itself. This isn't how the Association has conducted business in decades. Toes were stepped on.

The man with a Ph.D in public administration just went pseudo dictator in a move right out of the playbook of Roger Goodell or Bud Selig.

Once Mark Emmert concluded Penn State was wrong, he was going to do his part to set it right by charting a direct and long-forgotten course of action.

The school never stood a chance in this bold, and perhaps new era for college athletics.

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