NCAA President Mark Emmert. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Thursday, July 26, 2012 6:36 PM
Gee, and it sounded pretty good at the time.
But now, a dozen and a half years later, the words are coming back to haunt the man seemingly intent on assigning football its proper place in the collegiate food chain, i.e., no more important in the overall campus scheme than English lit or computer science or even an anthropology or modern art class.
As you may have heard, NCAA President Mark Emmert struck a blow for reform this week when he nuked Penn State, basically giving everyone a gory example of what can happen when a football program gets too big for its britches.
I thought he went too far, but his actions have been widely heralded as an act of sanity to thwart the epidemic of football tails wagging the university dogs.
So it was interesting Tuesday night when Emmert appeared on a segment of ESPN’s “Outside the Lines.”
Host Bob Ley dug up a 1999 clip from Emmert’s previous life as chancellor at LSU.
In it, Emmert, who had just announced that LSU coach Gerry DiNardo had been fired and that no stone would be left unturned to find a suitable replacement, had this to say:
“Simply put, success in LSU football is essential for the success of Louisiana State University.”
When confronted by Ley as to how that quote squares with his born-again devotion to putting and keeping football in its proper place, Emmert replied, “It depends on how you define success. When Nick Saban came in (to replace DiNardo) we had the lowest graduation rate in the SEC. By the time he left it was one of the highest graduation rates in the SEC.”
The quote caused a bit of a stir, even back then — not because it was any sort of new revelation but because somebody at the top of academia had actually admitted it.
I took it to mean: If the Tigers don’t start winning some dadgum football games, this being Louisiana, they might as well shut down the whole place, flagship and all.
But let me see if I’ve got this straight. DiNardo was fired because he didn’t graduate enough players? And Saban was hired because of his academic skills?
I remember that late-November news conference well. And I took a nostalgic trip back through the dusty archives to re-read what I wrote at the time.
Football graduation rates were never mentioned, I don’t believe, although two consecutive losing football seasons came up often.
Emmert had only been at LSU since the previous spring and was still fairly anonymous on campus.
That day, however, made him a star that has never stopped rising en route to his current post as czar of college sports.
After the formality of dispatching DiNardo, the overwhelming memory of that day was how Emmert took charge. In the past, LSU chancellors at these affairs had stood mostly in the background, there to lend support but appearing to not really want to get their hands dirty with such a ruffian matter.
Emmert? He subtly brushed aside then-Athletic Director Joe Dean, acknowledged how important football was to the campus and then made it clear that he, Emmert, would be in charge of finding some coach worthy of turning it around.
And, to give him credit, he made good on it.
Finding and hiring Saban was a slam dunk. It began the golden age of LSU football that continues to this day under Les Miles.
There are those who will tell you it was the best hire in the history of the school.
But it was all about graduation rates?
That surely must have been important because Emmert wasn’t bashful in landing his man.
Saban was well respected in football circles even then, but he wasn’t yet a coaching rock star after four fairly successful seasons at Michigan State.
It doesn’t sound like that much these days, but in 1999 when Emmert made Saban the six-million-dollar man — five years at $1.25 million per — it sent out groundbreaking shock waves.
Never mind that it turned out to be a bargain for LSU.
At the time only Steve Spurrier at Florida and Florida State’s Bobby Bowden could command that kind of cash, but LSU’s hire jump-started the coaching ATM.
Saban was a success however you want to define it.
But, according to DiNardo, Emmert’s definition doesn’t square with history.
DiNardo took to social media Tuesday after the ESPN broadcast to defend his academic record at LSU.
“What he said about academics was flat out inaccurate,” DiNardo tweeted.
In later dispatches DiNardo said that in 2001, when his first recruiting class came to bloom, LSU got a College Football Association award for its 70 percent graduation rate, which he said was the highest in program history.
“What I’m saying is that I raised the football graduation at LSU to the highest in their history at that point,” DiNardo wrote. “I’m proud of it.”
LSU didn’t get the graduation award again, DiNardo said, until 2010.
Of course, the on-field winning percentage pretty much went through the roof.
Posted By: Andy Patrick On: 7/29/2012
This is a criminal manner not an NCAA matter. I'm appalled at the sanctions given that we have yet to hear from very relevant people (athletic directior and univeristy police official) due to their upcoming trials. Let's wait to hear their side. Joe Paterno is gone. His last words suggested that he was letting experts handle the invesitigation. This sounds like a perfectly sensible approach to me as "doing more" could have jeopardized the investigation. One final note: to those who indict Penn state has putting football ahead of everyhing else as Emmert suggests, consider this: Penn State has the one of the top football graduations rates in collegiate athletics. Given Emmert's statement and tenure at LSU, I don't think he's in any position in lecturing Penn Sate on priorities in the football program.
Posted By: Donald M. Detwiler On: 7/27/2012
Title: Cruel and unusual punishment by the ';king of the mountain'
100's of thousands of alumni, 40 some thousand students, professors and the community of Centre County and State
College will suffer from a few. Paterno as GOD was the primary reason for Sandusky to continue for many years his prey on kids. Not the alumni, students, professors or the community caused this serious problem. How can Emmert be so powerful to criple a fine University. 60 million $, no bowl games for 4 years and taking millions from the center of Pennsylvania is just out of the question to be 'JUSTICE'. Emmert must be proud to take his anger out on 'We are PENN STATE'. Paterno under the covers was rattle snake and Sandusky a manipulating warped animal yet innocent thousands will suffer mainly because of these two terrible people called 'human beings'. Emmert MUST reduce the penality. This total package of Emmert's could cost humdred of million or more. ITS JUST TOO MUCH.