In e-mails from 2012 that were publicly released on Tuesday, the NCAA admitted that it was bluffing Penn State into accepting the dire sanctions imposed as punishment for the Jerry Sandusky scandal and questioned privately whether it had the jurisdiction to hand down such punitive measures.

The e-mails came to light as part of the discovery process in a lawsuit filed against the NCAA by Pennsylvania State Sen. Jake Corman, who is trying to prevent the organization from spending the $60 million fine levied against Penn State outside of state lines. The NCAA handed down the fine — along with five years of probation, a four-year bowl ban and a punitive scholarship reduction to the Nittany Lions’ football program — in July 2012, days after the e-mails were written.

As summarized in a story by Kevin Horne of Onward State, the e-mails reveal that the NCAA hoped Penn State would be “so embarrassed they will do anything” in response to the report compiled by former FBI director Louis Freeh, who determined that Penn State officials had known for years that Sandusky, a former Penn State defensive coordinator, was alleged to have sexually assaulted young boys while an employee of the university.


As summarized by Onward State, the e-mails show that NCAA officials were worried that they had the authority to hand down such a stern punishment, and hoped Penn State would be cowed into accepting them:

“We could try to assert jurisdiction on this issue and may be successful but it’d be a stretch,” wrote former NCAA Vice President of Enforcement Julie Roe in an email on July 14, 10 days before the sanctions were announced. “I characterized our approach to PSU as a bluff when talking to [NCAA President Mark Emmert] yesterday afternoon after the call. He basically agreed b/c if we make this an enforcement issue, we may win the immediate battle but lose the war when the COI [Committee on Infractions] has to rule.”
Not only did the NCAA admit that it was bluffing Penn State when it extorted it into signing the consent decree — it admitted that, without Penn State complying out of embarrassment (or whatever reason Old Main gives these days), it didn’t have jurisdiction to act.
“I know we are banking on the fact the school is so embarrassed they will do anything, but I am not sure about that, and no confidence conference or other members will agree to that,” wrote NCAA Vice President of Academic and Membership Affairs Kevin Lennon on the same day. “This will force the jurisdictional issue that we really don’t have a great answer to that one…”

There also is the question of whether the NCAA truly believed the Sandusky scandal gave Penn State a competitive advantage, which would give the organization a reason to specifically punish the football program. NCAA officials expressed doubt about this in the e-mails (as summarized by Onward State).

“I think Mark believes based on conversations with some presidents that PSU did gain an advantage although Berst, Wally and I disagree with that point,” Roe wrote. “The point some have made is that had PSU dealt with this in 2001, they might have suffered a recruiting disadvantage due to the bad publicity at that point. Given that they have a decent recruiting class now, not sure this holds up.”
“Delicate issue, but how did PSU gain a competitive advantage by what happened?” Lennon wrote. “Even if discovered, reported, and actions taken immediately by the administration, not sure how this would have changed anything from a competitive advantage perspective.”