Penn State University soon will respond and meet with the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which is considering severe penalties against the Nittany Lions’ athletic program after a report determined school officials covered up a child sex-abuse scandal involving former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.
Penn State President Rodney Erickson told reporters yesterday that the university will compose a response to the NCAA’s request for information over the next several days.
Erickson said he didn’t want to “jump to any conclusions” about whether possible sanctions from college sports’ governing body might include the so-called death penalty, which could shut down Penn State’s athletic program for ethics violations. NCAA President Mark Emmert, in a July 16 interview with the Public Broadcasting Service, said while a decision on penalties wouldn’t be made until charges against Penn State are determined, no sanctions are off the table.
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here,” Erickson told the Associated Press yesterday. “Let’s wait for this process to unfold. President Emmert has said that the NCAA will take a deliberate and deliberative process in addressing this, so I don’t think we should jump to any conclusions at this point.”
Emmert and the NCAA are awaiting Penn State’s response to the investigation conducted by former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Louis Freeh. The report released last week said the school’s top executives, including former university President Graham Spanier and football coach Joe Paterno, concealed Sandusky’s sexual abuse of children to protect the school from “bad publicity.”
“I have never seen anything as egregious as this in terms of just overall conduct and behavior inside a university and hope to never see it again,” Emmert said in an interview on PBS’s “Tavis Smiley” program.
David La Torre of La Torre Communications, an independent public relations firm working with the school, confirmed Erickson’s comments to reporters yesterday. La Torre said in an e-mail that Penn State has maintained an “open dialogue” with the NCAA, and will answer all of the association’s questions following a thorough review of Freeh’s report.
La Torre also said yesterday that Penn State officials will decide in the next seven to 10 days whether to remove an on-campus statue of Paterno, who was fired in November after charges were filed against Sandusky. The Nittany Lions’ coach for 46 years and the winner of a Division I-record 409 games, Paterno died of lung cancer in January at age 85.
Two days ago, the group that manages the pre-gameday encampment of students at Beaver Stadium known as “Paternoville,” in honor of the former football coach, changed the location’s name to “Nittanyville.”
The 68-year-old Sandusky, who spent 31 seasons as a defensive assistant under Paterno, was convicted last month on 45 criminal counts tied to the abuse of 10 boys over a 15-year period and is awaiting sentencing.
“Our most saddening and sobering finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims by the most senior leaders at Penn State,” Freeh said at a July 12 news conference in Philadelphia. “The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized.”
Attorneys for Spanier say the Freeh report “contained numerous inaccuracies and reached conclusions that are not supported by the data,” without providing details. Paterno’s family said in a statement that it also disputed some of Freeh’s findings and was conducting its own review.
Emmert didn’t imply whether the NCAA’s penalties would be targeted at the football program or the entire athletic department, since then-athletic director Tim Curley was allegedly involved in the cover-up with other school officials.
Mike McCann, director of the Sports Law Institute at Vermont Law School, said the NCAA likely will give more weight to the behavior of the athletic director and university executives than focus on Sandusky and Paterno.
“It was a departmental issue,” McCann said yesterday in a phone interview. “If they were to stop all sports for a year or two, they would likely say that this wasn’t just a football team situation, it was an institutional problem.”
If the NCAA levies the death penalty against Penn State, the financial losses would likely be debilitating, leaving non-revenue teams without funding and saddling the program with debt for years. In the fiscal year ending in 2010, the football program generated $63.3 million of the department’s $106.6 million operating revenue and turned an operating profit of $49.2 million, according to the school’s revenue and expenses report for that year.
Southern Methodist University’s football program received the death penalty in 1987 when it was revealed that 13 players had received a total of $61,000 from a slush fund provided by a booster. The NCAA canceled SMU’s 1987 season and allowed it to play just seven games -- all on the road -- in 1988.
“This is completely different than an impermissible benefits scandal like (what) happened at SMU, or anything else we’ve dealt with,” Emmert said. “There have been people that said this wasn’t a football scandal. It was that, but much more. And we’ll have to figure out exactly what the right penalties are.”