Penn State Sex Scandal Sanctions Draw Fire From PA Governor

(Harrisburg, PA) PA Governor Tom Corbett has filed a lawsuit intended to strike down sanctions imposed by the NCAA against Penn State. Those sanctions were levied against Penn State in the wake of a sex scandal that already has blemished the reputation of one college football’s premier programs.

PA Governor Tom Corbett
PA Governor Tom Corbett

The NCAA sanctions include:

– banning Penn State from bowl games for four years
– stripping 14 years of victories from the record of former Coach Joe Paterno, going back to 1998
-stripping Penn State of 10 athletic scholarships this year and 20 over the next four years
– a $60 million dollar fine, to be paid over four years, with one quarter of that money to be designated to programs fighting child abuse

The last sanction seems to be the one that drew Gov. Corbett’s response. Since Penn State is a public, state university, the financial burden would fall upon the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania itself. This ostensibly gives the Governor standing to initiate the lawsuit, though this will have to be adjudicated along with the rest of the suit.

Corbett described the sanctions as “overreaching and unlawful,” challenging the NCAA’s authority to levy the sanctions in the first place. In his press conference, he called the sanctions an attack against “the past, present, and future students of Penn State, the citizens of our Commonwealth, and our economy.” In this statement the Governor suggested the ground rules of his lawsuit: that the scandal resulted from the actions of “a few people,” while the NCAA sanctions penalize a wide number of people who had nothing to do with the crimes.

Prior to handing down the sanctions, NCAA president Mark Emmert had spoken to the unusual circumstances of both the crimes involved and the consequently unusual position in which those crimes placed the NCAA as governing authority, saying that

We cannot look to NCAA history to determine how to handle circumstances so disturbing, shocking and disappointing. As the individuals charged with governing college sports, we have a responsibility to act. These events should serve as a call to every single school and athletics department to take an honest look at its campus environment and eradicate the ‘sports are king’ mindset that can so dramatically cloud the judgment of educators.

Further, the NCAA did not follow its usual procedure for determining sanctions. That procedure would involve a hearing by the Committee on Infractions hearing, followed by a formal notice of allegations. The university would have 90 days to respond to that notice before the scheduling of another hearing.

This procedure was designed for more conventional collegiate sports violations involving cheating, or other strictly competition-related offences, or inappropriate violation of the distinction between amateur and professional sports status. An example would be the sanctions laid upon the University of Southern California in 2010 for “loss of institutional control.” Those sanctions, which included a postseason ban for two years, stripping the program of 30 scholarships, and vacating all wins in which Reggie Bush participated. That penalty followed an investigation that took over four years.

Rather than following this exhaustive procedure, in the case of Penn State the committee used the report by the law firm of former FBI Director Louis Freeh – a report commissioned by Penn State itself. In that report Freeh stated that over the previous 14 years administrators and officials at Penn State had displayed a “total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims.” Two official investigations, one by the US Department of Education, the other by a local US Attorney, were launched in November 2012. Acting on the Freeh report, the NCAA was able to act quickly and decisively, levying sanctions before the 2012 football season. At question now, given Gov. Corbett’s suit, is whether the NCAA might have acted too quickly.

The central figure in the scandal is former coach Jerry Sandusky, who was sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison on 45 counts of sexual abuse. Further, numerous Penn State officials were found guilty of facilitating Sandusky’s crimes through silence. in the aftermath, both head coach Joe Paterno and athletic director Tim Curley were fired. Also fired was PSU president Graham Spanier. Curley and Spanier have been brought up on formal criminal charges.

In 2002, Paterno was alerted by one of his assistants, Mike McQueary, that he had witnessed Sandusky, his defensive coordinator, raping an 8 to 10 year old boy in a facility shower. Paterno’s response was “You did what you had to do. It is my job now to figure out what we want to do.” He then referred the matter to Curley rather than alerting the police. He further is alleged to have convinced university authorities not to take the matter to the police. These actions resulted in leaving in scandal what had been one of the most celebrated coaching careers in football history, both collegiate and professional – a career that till then had been conspicuous not just for on-field success but for off-field integrity. Paterno had taken the Penn State Nittany Lions to 37 bowl appearances during a coaching career that lasted from 1966 to 2011, when he was fired in the middle of the season. He succumbed, a broken man, to lung cancer on January 22, 2012.

Sandusky used his charitable organization, The Second Mile, as a means to meet fatherless and otherwise disadvantaged boys. The program had won great honors for Sandusky, Paterno, and the PSU football program, including being recognized by President of George H.W. Bush as one of his “Thousand Points of Light” in 1988. Behind the cover of this public recognition, Sandusky “groomed” 8 to 12 year old boys with gifts such as free tickets to Penn State football games, growing closer till the bond included incremental physical contact. From this systematic breaking of the boys’ personal barriers, Sandusky proceeded to full-out sexual abuse, which typically took place in the PSU locker room showers where McQueary witnessed Sandusky anally raping a 10 year-old boy. Sandusky’s behavior is understood to be typical of pedophiles in their approach to potential victims. His actions were further facilitated by the enormous prestige given to Penn State football nationwide, but especially in central Pennsylvania.

by Todd Jackson

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