The NCAA wisely stood idle to allow the court system to handle the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse case that has ravaged Penn State University and its football program.
But after new information and evidence of widespread failures and attempts to cover up Sandusky’s actions surfaced in the Freeh report last week, the NCAA faces the daunting task of determining an appropriate punishment for the school and its football team.
From heavy sanctions and probation to the “death penalty,” calls for harsh punishment continue to resonate around the country. But the situation at Penn State is unlike any before, and there’s no precedent for the NCAA to follow.
“I don’t want to take anything off the table. The fact is, this is completely different than an impermissible benefits scandal like (what) happened at SMU, or anything else we’ve dealt with,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said in a PBS interview with Tavis Smiley (video here).
“This is as systemic a cultural problem as it is a football problem. There have been people that said this wasn’t a football scandal. Well, it was more than a football scandal, much more than a football scandal. It was that but much more. And 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.”
Emmert said in November that that the NCAA would be examining the “exercise of institutional control” within Penn State’s athletic department. In a statement issued late last week, the organization reiterated it would continue to explore the possibility of further penalties for the Nittany Lions.
The “university has four key questions, concerning compliance with institutional control and ethics policies, to which it now needs to respond,” Bob Williams, the NCAA’s vice president of communications said last week. “Penn State’s response to the letter will inform our next steps, including whether or not to take further action.”
The most extreme response would be the death penalty, which the NCAA imposed on Southern Methodist University’s football program in 1987 for an infamous pay-to-play scandal involving boosters and top players. Smiley asked Emmert whether the NCAA would consider dealing the same devastating blow to one of the country’s most storied programs, to which Emmert replied the organization wouldn’t balk at issuing such a punishment should the evidence warrant it.
“Whatever penalty structure is put in place — if there’s findings of violations of our rules — then the decisions will not be based upon whether people want to be courageous or not.”
Jenkins: The truth is, Joe Paterno lied
Document: Read the full Freeh report