Seeking appropriate penalties for Penn State

Now that a Pennsylvania jury has found Jerry Sandusky guilty of 45 counts of sexually assaulting 10 boys over 15 years, it appears likely that the former Penn State assistant football coach will spend the rest of his life in prison. Many would say that is inadequate punishment for his horrible crimes against young boys who were placed temporarily in his care.

But another question remains: What punishment will be handed down to the university itself?

Answers to that question will come, in part, in criminal cases against two top Penn State officials and in civil lawsuits that are being filed by Sandusky’s victims.

Whether there should also be severe athletic sanctions by the NCAA against Penn State’s football program, as some critics have argued, is a more difficult question.

Penn State Athletic Director Tim Curley and former Vice President Gary Schultz have both been charged with perjury and failing to alert authorities about Sandsky’s sexual abuse of one young boy in 2001, after it was reported to them by a Penn State graduate assistant with the football team. They are charged with lying to a grand jury about what they knew about that incident.

News accounts last week reported those two men and former Penn State President Graham Spanier traded emails about how to handle the 2001 complaint against Sandusky. The emails reveal that they decided the “humane” thing to do for Sandusky was not to report the incident to social services agencies, according to the news reports.

Additionally, Reuters news agency reported that at least one unidentified Sandusky victim has already filed a lawsuit against Penn State. Others are expected to follow, claiming that the university failed to protect them from Sandusky.

And Penn State apparently expects it will be paying something to the victims. Shortly after the Sandusky verdict last Friday, the university issued a statement inviting victims and their families to take part in discussions seeking resolution of their claims against Penn State.

When it comes to athletic sanctions, however, things seem to be more ambiguous.

Some people, including a newspaper columnist in Birmingham, Ala., have argued that the NCAA should impose its infamous “death penalty,” as it did against Southern Methodist University in the 1980s for its repeated recruiting violations and payments to student athletes. The NCAA cancelled SMU’s 1987 football season and all of its home games in 1988, took away its scholarship authority for several years and banned it from bowl games until 1990.

Those violations took place while SMU was already on probation for previous violations, and its infractions were certainly serious. But no one was harmed as badly as Sandusky’s victims were.

On the other hand, SMU committed clear violations of the NCAA’s athletic recruiting rules. What occurred at Penn State was criminal, but not a direct violation of NCAA’s rules governing athletic recruiting and oversight of student athletes.

However, the NCAA does expect its member institutions to exercise “institutional control” over its athletic programs and meet its ethics policies. Back in November, NCAA President Mark Emmert sent a letter to Penn State stating, according to the NCAA website, “This unprecedented situation demands the NCAA evaluate the university’s accountability with regard to those policies.”

While other Penn State athletic programs shouldn’t suffer because of what occurred within the football department, if top administrators turned a blind eye to Sandusky’s transgressions and looked for ways to protect him and the football program, there is a strong case to be made for violations of the NCAA’s institutional control and ethics policies.


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