Tuesday, September 18, 2001
Dempsey served as 'advisor' in NCAA's decisions
By Andy Katz
Cedric Dempsey doesn't have the same authority as the NFL's Paul Tagliabue, Major League Baseball's Bud Selig, the NBA's David Stern, or the NHL's Gary Bettman.
He isn't the commissioner of the NCAA, just an executive director who acts as a liaison for the membership to various outside interests. Last week, that included the White House. But, his co-dependence on the member schools meant he had no authority to shut down college football or any other sport in the wake of the worst terrorist bombings in U.S. history.
"We're a totally different organization than those other leagues," Dempsey told ESPN.com on Tuesday. "We have over 1,000 institutions and there are 24-25 sports. This isn't a league, it's an association."
However, if the attacks had come during the NCAA men's or women's basketball tournament, or any other NCAA-run championship, then Dempsey would have had the right to stop play. But if it's during the regular season, or the bowl season in college football (which is run by the BCS -- a conglomerate of the six highest-profile conferences), then any decision to postpone or cancel games is totally up to the individual institutions (with a nudge from the conference commissioners).
The NCAA certainly has influenced decisions, and at times tries to dictate policy when it comes to certain rules and regulations. Interpretation and enforcement of rules also comes from the Indianapolis-based organization. But deciding who and when a team is going to play isn't a decision made in Indiana.
The only time such a ruling could be made is during an NCAA championship, and even then, Dempsey would gather an emergency meeting with the board of directors -- a collection of university presidents who he technically reports to on a yearly basis.
"We would have the authority to make a decision on whether or not a championship is played in the championships that we run," Dempsey said. "Even in those cases, we have committees. But in a tragic situation, I would want to be involved in making the decision. I would take a leadership role and offer a suggestion on what should be done."
Dempsey said he did relay messages from the White House to the conference commissioners during their three teleconferences last Wednesday and Thursday after Tuesday's attacks. Dempsey said Karl Rove, one of President Bush's top advisors, was in contact with him on whether or not the White House wanted college football to be played.
Dempsey said there were two messages, one to resume "normalcy" as soon as possible, and the other about when a national day of prayer would be held. Dempsey said he was told it would be Friday, Saturday or Sunday. But decisions by some of the conferences were made before it was known that the day of prayer was on Friday. Dempsey said the commissioners were convinced they wouldn't play if the national day of prayer had turned out to be Saturday. But Dempsey said the conflicting messages of not only getting back to normalcy, but also being prepared for a possible day of prayer, made any decision harder to make.
"The decisions to not play were really made at the institutional level," Dempsey said. "Many of them were split on how to move forward. Each school had to analyze the facts and the impact on the faculty, staff and student-athletes. A number of them didn't want to play and if a decision were made from the top down to the institutions than that would have been a mistake and in some cases, it just became impossible from a travel standpoint."
Meanwhile, Dempsey said all Division I programs are reviewing their security measures. As an example, Kentucky issued a security statement Tuesday for a game against Florida on Saturday, saying that fans won't be allowed to bring in backpacks, bags, containers and packages. Fans will be allowed cell phones, pagers, still cameras, small purses, binoculars, small radios and seat cushions, but all items will be subjected to a search. Media will have all its bags checked and photographers will no longer be allowed to keep camera bags on the field. Photographers will only be allowed equipment that can be carried on his or her person.
"September 11 raised a level of greater awareness and sensitivity to security," Dempsey said.
Dempsey said the NCAA began working with Atlanta's local authorities over a year ago in advance of the 2002 Final Four at the Georgia Dome. But it wasn't because of a terrorist threat from outside the United States. The issue was the confederate flag after the NCAA nearly pulled the event from Georgia while the state was debating whether or not to change the flag from a confederate stars and bars base to one that excluded the symbols, or made the confederate symbol smaller.
Last week's terrorist attacks make it even more imperative to review and beef up security measures, even for an event in late March.
"From the information we have had, sporting activities could be a target of the terrorists and that makes us that much more aware of our responsibilities," Dempsey said. "As we talk with all our (NCAA men's basketball tournament) sites, we're working with them on proper procedures."
In the end, the NCAA says, the local authorities, arena and the community in which the NCAA is staging the event will have the final say in security.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.