Court documents filed in Pennsylvania this week revealed that the NCAA “worked closely” with the firm hired by Penn State to conduct an independent investigation of the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal, according to ESPN’s “Outside the Lines.”
The firm, led by former FBI chief Louis Freeh, released a report on July 12, 2012 that the NCAA used as its basis to levy unprecedented sanctions against Penn State. Those sanctions, handed down on July 23, 2012, included a four-year bowl ban, significant scholarship losses, vacating of the PSU football team’s wins from 1998-2012 and a $60 million fine.
Court documents show that the “correspondence between Freeh and the NCAA began less than two weeks” after Penn State hired Freeh’s firm. Documents show that NCAA president Mark Emmert requested to speak with Freeh by phone on Nov. 30, 2011. From then on – from Dec. 2011 up until the release of the Freeh Report – the two parties communicated on a fairly regular basis.
These documents have come to light as part of a lawsuit filed by Pennsylvania Sen. Jake Corman and state treasurer Rob McCord. The basis of the lawsuit is the allocation of the $60 million fine against Penn State. Corman and McCord aim to use the fine for programs in Pennsylvania, while the NCAA intended to spread the fine money to organizations across the country.
The Penn State Board of Trustees accepted the findings of the report and then-president Rodney Erickson signed the consent decree accepting the sanctions in July 2012. The sanctions have since been lessened, but the validity of the report has long been questioned.
“Clearly the more we dig into this, the more troubling it gets," Corman told "Outside the Lines." “There clearly is a significant amount of communication between Freeh and the NCAA that goes way beyond merely providing information. I'd call it coordination ... Clearly, Freeh went way past his mandate. He was the enforcement person for the NCAA. That's what it looks like. I don't know how you can look at it any other way. It's almost like the NCAA hired him to do their enforcement investigation on Penn State. At a minimum, it is inappropriate. At a maximum, these were two parties working together to get an outcome that was predetermined.”
In addition to communications between the Freeh group and the NCAA, documents also showed that the NCAA “provided proposed search terms to help Freeh’s investigators better search emails.”
When Freeh announced the details of the report during a press conference the day of its release, he said the university “concealed critical facts” and did not report Sandusky in order “to avoid the consequences of bad publicity.” This covered areas the NCAA asked Freeh's investigators about from the beginning of the inquiry: lack of institutional control and Penn State’s “culture.” Freeh’s criticism centered on longtime PSU head coach Joe Paterno, former president Graham Spanier, former athletic director Tim Curley and former vice president Gary Schultz.
Corman asserts that the NCAA aimed “to improve its own image at the expense of Penn State.”
"I'm angry. When you read the other communications we've seen, the NCAA is saying we have an image problem. So it looks like the NCAA was looking to improve its own image at the expense of Penn State. And to do that, they were orchestrating an outcome with Freeh to make it happen ... A lot of people were hurt by the sanctions brought down by the NCAA, and to think it was achieved possibly by this coordination by Freeh and the NCAA makes me very, very angry."
Shep Cooper, an administrator for the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions, admitted in another email disclosed in court this week that the NCAA’s leadership is “extremely image-conscious.”
“If they (NCAA leadership) conclude that pursuing allegations against PSU would enhance the association's standing with the public, then an infractions case would follow. I know that Mark Emmert has made statements to the press indicating that he thinks it could fall into some sort of LOIC (loss of institutional control) case," the email read.
As the investigation took place, Freeh maintained publicly that his investigation was entirely independent and would include “no favoritism,” per Outside the Lines. Penn State paid Freeh’s firm $8.2 million for the investigation.
Previous emails, released as part of Corman’s lawsuit last week, showed officials from the NCAA questioned their authority to sanction Penn State. Former NCAA vice president of enforcement wrote in an email dated July 14, 2012: “I characterized our approach to PSU as a bluff when talking to 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 (NCAA Committee on Infractions) has to rule."
Additionally, NCAA Vice President of Academic and Membership Affairs Kevin Lennon wrote in another email from July 14 that the NCAA was “banking on the fact the school is so embarrassed they will do anything” before Erickson signed the consent decree.
The newly released emails can be read here.
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