In an interview Thursday with ESPN, Emmert called the arrest of former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky on child-molestation charges "easily the worst scandal I've ever seen or even heard of in intercollegiate athletics. . . . You can't read the 23-page testimony without having your stomach turn and ask yourself, 'How in the world does this happen?' "
Last week, Sandusky was charged with 40 criminal counts of molesting eight young boys between 1994 and 2009 - some of them inside Penn State's athletic facilities - through his charitable foundation for at-risk youths, the Second Mile.
On Monday, Penn State's athletic director, Tim Curley, and a vice president, Gary Schultz, were charged with failing to notify authorities after an eyewitness reported a 2002 assault.
On Wednesday, Penn State's board of trustees relieved Paterno and university president Graham Spanier of their duties, effective immediately. Both men have maintained that they were not cognizant of all the details of Sandusky's alleged crimes.
Former Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer expressed doubt about assertions that the coaching staff was surprised by the breadth of the accusations.
"Having been in this profession a long time and knowing how close coaching staffs are, I knew that this was a secret that was kept secret," the one-time Paterno antagonist told the Daily Oklahoman. "Everyone on that staff had to have known, the ones that had been around a long time."
Switzer said he felt terrible for Paterno, but Penn State had no choice but to let him go.
If the NCAA looks at sanctioning Penn State, it appears it would include looking at NCAA Bylaw 2.4, on "principles of sportsmanship and ethical conduct," which calls for "intercollegiate athletics to promote the character development of participants . . .. These values should be manifest not only in athletics participation but also in the broad spectrum of activities affecting the athletics program."
This broad bylaw typically has been used to regulate behavior such as trash-talking during a game. It appears to be unprecedented to use the bylaw to penalize an institution over ethical conduct. But this obviously is an unprecedented circumstance that has unfolded in State College.
Nathan Tublitz, a biology professor at the University of Oregon and former cochairman of the Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics, an association of faculty senates at 60 universities that works to better integrate athletics into university mission, had several questions on the matter.
"One question that I think should be asked: Would this situation have occurred - not the alleged crime itself, but the response to the alleged crime . . . I wonder if that would have happened in the communications department or the biology department? My guess is it would have unfolded very differently," Tublitz said.
Like many, Tublitz wondered whether this was a tipping point where real change, wider change, is effected.
"Number one, it's Penn State," Tublitz said in a telephone interview. "Penn State has been held up in this country as doing sports right. Number two, and I will say they are alleged crimes, but the alleged crimes are horrific. That takes it to another level. Some of the infractions that have occurred in the past did not reach the level of criminality. The third issue that turns this into a potential tipping point is the previous history of near endless violations being reported in the media by dozens of schools in the past 18 months."
Emmert said he was "saddened" by the images of the behavior of Penn State students Wednesday night in State College.
"They, of course, are young people who are reacting viscerally and emotionally and not necessarily logically," Emmert told ESPN. "This isn't about who's going to coach on Saturday. It's not even about football. It's about people taking positions and trust and using them to prey on young people, and it's despicable."
Contact staff writer Mike Jensen at 215-854-4489, email@example.com, or @Jensenoffcampus on Twitter. Read his "Off Campus'' columns at www.philly.com/offcampus.