NCAA chief: Newton ruling is complex
INDIANAPOLIS -- NCAA president Mark Emmert said in an interview Tuesday that emergency legislation could be put in place during the January convention to avoid a repeat of the Cam Newton pay-for-play case.
Speaking in a wide-ranging interview with nine reporters from various media outlets, Emmert said the main question the NCAA must tackle is whether a player should be culpable for the actions of a relative even if no evidence is found that he or she knew about those actions. The NCAA recently ruled that quarterback Cam Newton's father tried to get Mississippi State to pay for Newton to play for the Bulldogs. The NCAA found no evidence that Cam Newton knew what his father did or that Auburn was involved, so he was allowed to keep playing.
The new NCAA chief said the backlash against the organization's decision to clear Newton to play would have been worse if he were prevented from competing based on the evidence against him. At the same time, he acknowledged it's a complex legal and ethical issue.
"I was not surprised by the volume or the vitriolic nature, but had we made a different decision, I do think it would have been worse," Emmert said. "There was no evidence that Auburn University had anything to do with that or the student-athlete had anything to do with that, and under the rules that exist today, he could play ball."
Emmert, the former University of Washington president who succeeds interim president Jim Isch (who followed the late Myles Brand), said legislation to deal with a Newton-like case is on his mind.
"Who is an agent and who is a third party and how do you define that?" Emmert said. "Is it a registered agent? A financial adviser? A counselor, an uncle, an AAU coach? Who is representing you? The reason the backlash didn't surprise me is that the face of the case seemed straight forward but we had to deal with the reality of the facts that were known."
Meanwhile, Emmert said he wouldn't get into specifics over the men's basketball probe at Tennessee. The school and the SEC already have handed down penalties to coach Bruce Pearl, who misled NCAA investigators over recruiting violations, and his coaching staff. The notice of NCAA allegations is due soon in Knoxville, and once the Vols are in front of the committee on infractions, they will learn their fate. The school already limited Pearl and members of his staff from recruiting for upward of a year and docked Pearl's salary $1.5 million over five years. SEC commissioner Mike Slive suspended Pearl for the first eight SEC game days, beginning in January.
"We certainly want to uphold the standards for coaches since they are the teachers and the authoritative figures in that relationship and should be held to the same standards as our students," Emmert said.
Among the other hot-button issues Emmert discussed during the lengthy interview:
• Emmert said he has not spoken to the NBA Players' Association representatives but has been in touch with NBA commissioner David Stern about the NBA draft rule that calls players to be at least one year out of high school and 19 years old before they can be drafted. He said he has no authority in a collective bargaining agreement, even though it affects the NCAA. But he's in favor of anything that will keep players in college longer (he mentioned three seasons). The NBA and the NBPA are negotiating a new CBA after the current one expires next year.
• Emmert said he is in favor of the 68-team model for the NCAA tournament and expects it to be in place for a long time. He said having three more teams in the tournament and the event all at one site in Dayton, Ohio, should be a win for the NCAA and the teams.
• Emmert said there is a growing movement to eliminate July recruiting for men's basketball but something has to be offered up in its place. "I know something will fill it, and we may not like what fills it," he said.
• Emmert reiterated that he is against paying college athletes.
"We can never move to a place where we are paying players to play for us," Emmert said. "We let them hone their skills at the highest level."
• The NCAA controls every collegiate championship except for major college football. Emmert doesn't see that changing -- in the form of a playoff run by the NCAA.
"We don't have anything to do with the bowl games," said Emmert, who added that the NCAA does get an annual share of $400,000 overall from all of the bowl games, a pittance of funds compared to the millions that are brought in and shared by only the schools and conferences that participate in the bowl system. The entire NCAA membership shares in the 14-year, $10.8 billion men's basketball tournament television deal with CBS/Turner.
"We are heavily involved in the rules in which the game is played and the way football is operated but we don't manage the media revenue for the conferences or the championship," Emmert said. "We never controlled the championship. We never had one. There's never been a I-A football championship in American history. It's easy to forget that the BCS was an attempt to create one."
• Emmert also addressed the unknown future of the NCAA with the threat this past summer of super conferences emerging. New Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott, whom Emmert helped hire while president at Washington, tried to get six Big 12 schools, including Texas, to form a Pac-16. Texas stayed, and Scott added only Colorado out of the Big 12 and Utah from the Mountain West, preventing a seismic shift in college athletics. The Big Ten added Nebraska to go to 12, and there were other moves, mostly between the MWC and the WAC, as well as TCU going to the Big East.
Emmert said the conferences have to recognize that they need balance and strength across the sport of football to support 35 bowls. "You need 70 teams so you have to worry about the health of other conferences," Emmert said. "It can't be every man for himself."
Emmert already has streamlined his national office by cutting back on the number of vice presidents and putting all championships except major college football under one person, Greg Shaheen.
"Most of the issues I can't change with a pen but I can impact them," Emmert said. "If I felt impotent on these issues, I wouldn't have taken the job. I'm not interested in just going around and giving speeches."
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.