"I've never seen anything as egregious as this in terms of just overall conduct and behavior inside of a university," Emmert told PBS' Tavis Smiley in an interview about the Jerry Sandusky child sex scandal at Penn State and its impact on college sports broadcast Monday.
"I hope never to see it again. What the appropriate penalties are, if there are determinations of violations, we'll have to decide and we'll hold in abeyance all of those decisions until we've actually decided what we want to do with the actual charges should there be any.
"And I don't want to take anything off the table. The fact is this is completely different than an impermissible benefits scandal like happened at SMU [Southern Methodist University] or anything else that we've dealt with. This is as systematic a cultural problem as it is a football problem."
The SMU football program received a NCAA death penalty in 1987 and 1988 for repeated rules violations, the only major college football program ever hit with the association's harshest sanction. Penn State has until November to respond to an NCAA letter requesting details of its compliance, ethics and institutional control of the sports program.
Emmert said the good news is that the Penn State scandal is so shocking because it is so rare. Sandusky, Penn State's former defensive coordinator, was convicted on 45 counts of sexually abusing young boys, sometimes in the school's locker room and showers.
"There have been people who've said this wasn't a football scandal. Well, it was more than a football scandal. Much more than a football scandal. It was that and much more," he said. "We'll have to figure out exactly what the right penalties are. I don't know that past precedent makes particularly good sense in this case because it's really an unprecedented problem."