In a “Mike and Mike” interview, NCAA President Mark Emmert took a moment to praise Penn State for its progress in the wake of the Sandusky scandal and sanctions:
“The university, I need to add, is being incredibly cooperative and helpful in all of this,” Emmert said. “I think that, in the midst of all the noise around this case, it’s being missed that Penn State’s doing a really good job in being responsible and working on changing their processes and culture. I think they deserve a lot of credit for that.”
The article goes on to mention how Penn State’s fans are coping with the sanctions and some of the frustration with the NCAA’s insistence that “culture” was to blame. In particular, fans have touted the football team’s high graduation rates.
But culture and the academic priorities of the university go beyond the NCAA’s rules, even beyond the NCAA’s metrics for graduation rates and academic progress. The NCAA is often accused of elevating its rules to a moral high ground rather than leaving them as technical rules governing a set of games. But fans and the media are sometimes just as guilty, praising a coach for not committing NCAA violations and graduating his players while not questioning if more basic requirements are being met.
As much as the Penn State case raises questions about the expansion of NCAA power, it should also be treated as an acknowledgement by the NCAA of how important its rules really are. That has implications for a number of NCAA activities (lobbying for agent laws is a prime example). But if the NCAA’s own reform efforts get out of the slow lane, perhaps it will be a better guiding principle.