While the NCAA has said it's going to need some time to sort out the information from the Freeh Report, which revealed Penn State's knowledge of the child sexual abuse by former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, NCAA president Mark Emmert seems to be leaning toward potentially bringing down the hammer on the university and potentially issuing the NCAA's dreaded "death penalty" — if he can prove there were football-related violations.
In a PBS interview with host Tavis Smiley, Emmert acknowledged that he had "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's words harkened a possible NCAA death penalty, which has only been handed down once in football - SMU in 1986. SMU was banned from competition in 1987 and home games in 1988 (it missed the entire season) and postseason in 1989. It wasn't allowed to be on live television, its recruiting was crippled and its coaching staff was cut. It took SMU more than a decade to get back to winning seasons and because of that, it's a sanction the NCAA doesn't hand out lightly.
But the fact that Penn State knowingly hid Sandusky's actions for more than a decade gives Emmert pause, but he's not quite ready to break the NCAA's unwritten rule of not stepping in to deal with criminal cases. However, he also recognizes this is a unique situation and requires a thorough examination of the facts and whether Penn State's misdeeds are enough to warrant the NCAA's definition of lack of institutional control.
"This is completely different than an impermissible benefits scandal like [what] happened at SMU, or anything else we've dealt with," Emmert told Smiley. "This is as systemic a cultural problem as it is a football problem. There have been people that said this wasn't a football scandal.
"Well, it was more than a football scandal, much more than a football scandal. It was that but much more. And we'll have to figure out exactly what the right penalties are. I don't know that past precedent makes particularly good sense in this case, because it's really an unprecedented problem."
There's got to be a part of the NCAA that's waiting for Penn State to make the first move and let it off the hook. Many have suggested the school voluntarily suspend the football program for a requisite amount of years or impose other sanctions. However, Penn State hasn't been quick to take any action in light of this scandal as evidenced with its hesitancy to remove the statue of famed coach Joe Paterno, who was implicated in the cover-up. The only party that seems willing to try and erase Penn State's shady past are the students, who renamed "Paternoville," the group that "manages the encampment of Penn State students outside Beaver Stadium for home football games," to "Nittanyville."
The Department of Education also is weighing in on possible sanctions for Penn State's violation of the Clery Act, which requires federally funded universities to publicly report all criminal activity on or around campus.
The NCAA decision isn't something that's going to be swift and probably not something that will be handed down prior to the 2012 season, which begins in about six weeks. But it will be interesting to see which party makes the first move - the NCAA or Penn State.
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