PSU To Avoid NCAA Sanctions?

July 13, 2012

Joe Paterno may have won on the field, but in the end, he lost in life.

The Freeh report concluded that the top brass at Penn State failed to protect children from a sexual predator in order to protect the integrity of the school’s flagship and highly profitable football program.  In its complete failure, Penn State and its senior administrators are now tangled in criminal matters with lengthy civil suits forthcoming, but what will happen to the football program?

The Freeh report may have made a compelling case for the NCAA to sanction PSU for lack of institutional control, but in reality how will the NCAA react?  The NCAA is designed to manage collegiate competition not to police every single criminal incident that occurs on the campuses of all its member institutions.  Its bylaws are predicated on leveling the playing field, ensuring competitive equity, and preventing any recruiting or financial violations of coaches and players.  The fact of the matter is the Sandusky scandal does not fall under NCAA jurisdiction as it relates to the football program.  

After combing through Freeh’s 267-page report, nothing states PSU’s actions, or inactions, directly benefited the football players or the program.  Again, the scandal occurred within the administration and the football facilities, but the violations did not directly connect to the players and the program.  If there were any allegations that said otherwise, then the NCAA could step in.  Moreover, if you look at the history of the NCAA, it typically does not issue major sanctions for “lack of institutional” control without an additional component.  This was apparent when Southern California and Ohio State were both sanctioned for players accepting illegal benefits (i.e., Reggie Bush taking illegal funds and Terrelle Pryor accepting cash and discounted tattoos).  When those allegations surfaced and later proved to be true, the NCAA threw the anvil in which the schools are still recovering. 

The NCAA is in a difficult position because even though the bylaws don’t really grant jurisdiction to levy sanctions, there is public outcry for the “death penalty,” which effectively would shut down the program for at least one year.  This now becomes a public relations issue.  The NCAA is also aware that if it issues sanctions against PSU, it will be opening the doors to go after every school hit with criminal activity. This is not the direction the NCAA wants to take and it is clearly beyond the scope of the NCAA’s police powers.

In the end, the NCAA does not have the authority to sanction the PSU football program, but it certainly can and should go after the top remaining administrators.  Graham Spanier, Tim Curley, Gary Schultz and any other administrator found to be involved in this scandal should be banned from the NCAA for life.  As for the university, its fate will be appropriately handled by the judicial system, not the NCAA. 

For damage control and to salvage some dignity, PSU should consider a self-imposed punishment such as suspending the program for a year which would ultimately preempt any punishment by the NCAA and it will also be a big first step in moving forward.

At the moment, the NCAA is awaiting Penn State’s official response to key questions regarding compliance with NCAA bylaws with respect to the issues raised by the grand jury.  Based on those responses, the NCAA will decide “whether or not to take action,” wrote Bob Williams, the NCAA’s vice president of communications.

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