The good news is that the NCAA is at least examining what its role should be in this horrific mess.
The organization is awaiting Penn State’s response to a November letter sent by NCAA President Mark Emmert, in which Emmert requested answers to questions “concerning compliance with institutional control and ethics policies.” The key matter for the NCAA to determine is whether its authority to punish for “lack of institutional control” is as applicable to egregious criminal behavior as it is to providing extra benefits to teenagers.
If the NCAA expands the term’s traditional definition, it could severely punish the football program and athletic department. What happened at Penn State should be included under the umbrella.
The Freeh report, compiled by a team of investigators led by former FBI director Louis Freeh, is highly critical of coach Joe Paterno, university president Graham Spanier, athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz.
The four men, according to the report, failed to act despite having opportunities to confront Sandusky, Paterno’s longtime lead assistant, over 14 years. They displayed “total disregard” for the children being victimized by Sandusky, and Paterno — whom Freeh repeatedly portrayed as the group’s most powerful figure during a news conference Thursday — lied about what he knew, when he knew it and, according to e-mail correspondence, advised against a plan to report one of Sandusky’s crimes witnessed by an assistant coach.
Freeh determined the officials’ incomprehensibly poor decisions stemmed from, their desire to avoid negative publicity that could damage the school and the program. Penn State’s “culture of reverence for the football program” led its most senior leaders to put protecting the program ahead of protecting underprivileged boys, many of whom lacked father figures, from a child rapist.
The football-driven culture at Penn State is so warped that the school’s current leadership should act to obliterate it without a NCAA mandate. It has happened before.
Disgraced by its prominent men’s basketball team, the University of San Francisco canceled the program for three seasons in the early 1980s. The school was widely applauded for being the first to shut down an out-of-control program in a major sport.
Southern Methodist University missed an opportunity to join them. Throughout the 1980s, SMU football players were better compensated than many in the NFL. The NCAA shuttered the program during the 1987 and ’88 seasons, making it the only Bowl Subdivision team to get the so-called “death penalty.”