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Monday, June 17, 2013

Question for NCAA President Emmert: If the Rape Charges are Substantiated Against 3 Naval Academy Football Players, What Will You Do?

You can read the story here

The stakes could be big.  After all, you set a precedent with Penn State, you rushed to judgment, and you exacted huge penalties against an undergunned and intimidated Penn State board without giving them any due process and without having conducted an investigation.  You damned them, you fined them, you reduced their scholarships and put various curbs on them. 

All for underlying acts that a current administrator, coach or player did not perpetrate.  By the way, the purpose of this post is not to defend or apologize for Penn State or the Paterno family, as I have written before that Penn State and Paterno didn't handle the matter well.  That said, it is pretty clear what the NCAA did and did not do. 

What the NCAA did puts them in a big bind.

Or should. 

That is, if the NCAA itself had any discipline in its approach and had standards to adhere to.

Because rape is a pretty serious charge.  As is the issue of sexual assaults in the military, which have been a big topic of conversation.  So, for a moment, let's suppose that these three Midshipmen committed sexual assualt, that they raped this female Midshipman.

Then what?

Well, if you adopt Mark Emmert's way of thinking, that's it for Naval Academy football.  You cannot reduce their scholarships, because everyone who goes to Navy gets a full ride.  You probably cannot suspend the Army-Navy game, because the nation wouldn't stand for it and you'd be punishing Army (then again, you did punish current Penn State players, who weren't around when the alleged bad activities and failures to act during the heart of the Jerry Sandusky problems took place).  You probably cannot bust the Naval Academy down to I-AA for a while, but I am not sure whether that would be a punishment.  You could reduce the number of football recruits Navy brings in, but unless there are rules that the USNA follows now, that would be hard counting to do.

No, you could suspend their football program for a period of years.  You, after all, threatened Penn State with the "death penalty," and since it's hard to fine Navy without fining the average tax payer (who wouldn't appreciate the symbol of the fine but would only seethe at the irony), so why can't you do that to Navy?  Okay, so you'd be suspending the Army-Navy game and you'd be elevating Air Force to an equal (which would be equally galling to Army and Navy), but what other choice to you have?  You set a precedent with Penn State.

So, if this is true, you'd have to consider a four-year ban on the football program, elimination of the "football house" referenced in the article (memo to football players who want a good future:  stay way from that #&^*@ house) and mandatory sexual harrassment training that sets the standard for all athletic programs everywhere, among other things.  If this were true, that would have to happen. 

If this were true, Navy football should have blank pages in its history for several years.  And, Mark Emmert, you're just the guy who can and should do it.

Because failing to do it would throw into question your leadership and decision-making on the Penn State matter.  You elected -- rashly -- to take a stand, so you have set a precedent.  You picked on an otherwise honorable institution because you wanted to show that even the most honorable were not above your jurisdiction (and perhaps you were, as many were, tired of hearing from the Paternos and their lionizers about how special and wonderful Penn State was and is), an institution that would have been less prone to fight back than, say, your average SEC school.  So, if you're going to be consistent, you're going to have to fire all the guns on Navy, too.

And, if you're totally consistent, without doing an investigation.

To be clear, I do not want anyone to rush to judgment.  The charges against the three Midshipmen football players are very serious, and these young men are entitled to a vigorous defense.  Everyone should remember that, even if the allegations are harsh and the reports are negative.  They are not guilty until they go through the process (and I admit I do not know whether it's a military process or the same criminal process the rest of us are subject to).

But if it's true, what does Mark Emmert do?  What should he do? 

If he goes after Navy the way he went after Penn State, he'd at least be consistent, but most likely overreaching (at least on the current facts).

If he were not to go after Navy in the same fashion, then he should immediately lift the various sanctions on Penn State and let them off for time served. 

Otherwise, the NCAA would lose all credibility.

It's hanging on a precipice now, or so it seems, at least with the latest article in SI about enforcement.

So, if you're Mark Emmert, what do you do?  The easy way out would be to distinguish this matter from the Penn State matter, say it's not a program-wide matter, let the authorities and school deal with it the way member schools have dealt with numerous felons over the years.  The bet here is that this is the way he'd go.

But remember, President Emmert, the prayer of the United States Military Academy, which, in relevant part, asks God to give the cadet the strength to choose the harder right over the easier wrong.  And use it to guide you in making your decision.

I'll also give you some advice -- the harder right might not be to punt and let the Naval Academy deal with this on its own.  You'll get a lot of pressure to do that, but you should, at all times, remember your prior actions and either be consistent with them or apologize for an overreaction.

Right now, there doesn't seem to be a middle ground if those kids are culpable.


Anonymous Jodi Balsam said...

Does it matter that Navy's program is in a position to discipline the wrongdoer's?

2:20 PM  
Blogger SportsProf said...


That's a very good question and one that I hadn't thought about.

At the ground level, I think you make a good point, a logical extension of which is, "Heck, if Navy does what it's supposed to do and puts the players through its process, then the NCAA need not and should not get involved." That's what happens day in and day out, although I am not sure what the threshold is for when the NCAA decides to get involved other than public outcry.

That said, the perpetrators in the Penn State mess were subject to all sorts of discipline -- Coach Paterno lost his job, Jerry Sandusky will never get out of jail, and the two senior administrators lost their jobs and are being prosecuted for perjury. In addition, the school's brand is tarnished; applications, I believe, were down 8%. The main actors at Penn State were punished in various ways (and I am not beginning to defend them).

At the 30,000-foot level, the speed with which the NCAA reacted to the Penn State situation was disturbing, seemingly of the "shoot first, aim later" variety, and set a precedent. Remember, the Freeh report condemned a "football first" culture (as if that isn't the case at every SEC school save, perhaps, Vanderbilt). In this case, there was a "football house" off campus and activity that's been called into question. Which makes me wonder -- even if Navy were to find the players culpable after due process (or if civilian authorities do the same), does that change the culture around Navy and Navy football? That's where the NCAA's precedent on Penn State looms its (ugly) spectre -- because criminal convictions don't necessarily change a culture (the 1919 Black Sox were acquitted, and yet the commissioner banned them for life, precisely to change a culture). Atop that, you have the entire issue of "sexual assaults" in the military. So, if the public outcry was loud on Penn State, the Navy allegations come against the backdrop of President Obama's commencement speech at one of the service academies on this topic. Which would suggest that the NCAA has a difficult situation here, one that I predict it will avoid because it goofed on Penn State and because the politics that will surround any discipline of Navy will be horrendous.

Thanks so much for your question -- very thoughtful!

8:54 AM  

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