INDIANAPOLIS — The NCAA said Thursday it expects Penn State to answer a handful of crucial questions stemming from the child sex-abuse case against Jerry Sandusky, any of which could result in sanctions against the school.
Whether that could include the so-called “death penalty” – where a program is shut down – seems unlikely, at least for now. That has happened just once, against Southern Methodist University back in the 1980s. Current NCAA rules limit the penalty to colleges already on probation that commit another major violation.
But NCAA leaders have indicated in recent months they are willing to use harsher penalties for the worst offenses. That includes postseason and TV bans.
Ohio State is banned from playing in a bowl game this season as a result of the “failure to monitor” charge that followed coach Jim Tressel’s admission that he knew several of his star players were trading memorabilia for cash and tattoos in violation of NCAA rules and did not report it. The Buckeyes also vacated the 2010 season and were hit with NCAA probation and a loss of scholarships. Southern California was banned from the postseason for two years and stripped of 30 scholarships following the Reggie Bush scandal.
Still pending before the NCAA is the Miami case involving booster Nevin Shapiro.
NCAA president Mark Emmert told Penn State in November that the organization would be examining the “exercise of institutional control” within the athletic department, and said it was clear that “deceitful and dishonest behavior” could be considered a violation of ethics rules. So, too, could a failure to exhibit moral values.
A searing report, commissioned by Penn State, found that beloved coach Joe Paterno had helped hush up allegations of child sex abuse against a former assistant. The report concluded that Paterno and three former administrators – President Graham Spanier, athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz – “repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky’s child abuse.”
Sandusky is awaiting sentencing after being convicted of 45 criminal counts for abusing 10 boys over a number of years. Paterno died of lung cancer in January.
Bob Williams, the NCAA’s vice president of communications, said Penn State “has four key questions, concerning compliance with institutional control and ethics policies, to which it now needs to respond. Penn State’s response to the letter will inform our next steps, including whether or not to take further action.”
Likely of particular interest to the NCAA were the report’s conclusions that the school had “decentralized and uneven” oversight of compliance issues – laws, regulations, policies and procedures.
“Certain departments monitored their own compliance issues with very limited resources,” the report found. Ensuring compliance with the federal Clery Act, which requires the reporting of crimes, was handled by someone with “minimal time.”
“One of the most challenging tasks confronting the university,” the report added, “is an open, honest and thorough examination of the culture that underlies the failure of Penn State’s most powerful leaders to respond appropriately to Sandusky’s crimes.”
Dry stuff, perhaps, but potentially dangerous for Penn State’s football program – or athletic department – should the NCAA decide there are major violations that are the result of a lack of institutional control or a failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance.
“The NCAA will, I’m sure as their statement indicates, be working through the report of Judge Freeh, and we’ll have an opportunity to respond to the letter that I received from Dr. Emmert back in November,” Penn State President Rodney Erickson said. “Now that we have Judge Freeh’s report, we’re in much better position to respond to the list of questions that Dr. Emmert sent us, at that point, and we will be doing so over the next couple weeks.”
Hours after the report was issued, the NCAA again touted its eight-month old partnership with Stop It Now, a child sex-abuse prevention organization, to provide member schools with resources and “foster an environment in which that abuse is reported.”