Former NCAA investigator Dan Beebe says Penn State’s sanctions could be ‘more challenging than the SMU one-year death penalty’
Dan Beebe knows and understands the powerful impact that NCAA sanctions can have on a university and a football program. Beebe, the former director of enforcement with the NCAA, and his staff worked the 1985 case that was the prelude to the "Death Penalty" sanctions where Southern Methodist football was killed for the 1987 season.
The Mustangs were one of the powerhouse football programs of the 1980's until it was revealed that boosters were paying players and recruits to get them to University Park, Texas. The payment of student athletes spanned two decades and included both superstars and fringe players.
The SMU "Death Penalty" case, the most famous sanctions ever handed down until those at Penn State, involved the shutting down of the Mustangs football program in 1987, the cancelling of all their home games in 1988 (the school ended up cancelling all games for that year), no postseason play for three years, a television blackout of one year, recruiting restrictions, the loss of 55 scholarships over a period of four years and a probationary period of three years. It was so heavy-handed from the NCAA that it essentially killed the program for the next two decades.
When Penn State received unprecedented sanctions for its role in the cover-up of former coach Jerry Sandusky's sexual abuse of young boys, including a known incident on campus, the Nittany Lions were left reeling as well. A loss of 40 scholarships over the next four years, a postseason ban and a $60 million fine (equal to the football team's revenue) make it a very "Unhappy Valley" for Penn State faithful.
"I felt like the Penn State problem was completely different - it is the most horrendous situation I can ever recall being associated with an intercollegiate athletics program," Beebe told Yahoo! Sports. "The SMU case was about violations of a voluntary association's self-imposed rules, none of which are criminal and some of which many in society don't understand or even agree with.
"Penn State was about horrible acts of crime and immorality against children. The two aren't even in the same universe as far as I am concerned."
The SMU decision based on Beebe's work in 1985 made headlines for its obvious severity but was widely praised as the only means necessary to bring a Mustangs program circumventing the rules under control. Since then, no major college football program has ever seen its program killed for a season, perhaps the fear of the NCAA being struck into college coaching staffs and boosters. Programs have received sanctions since then, some of them high profile cases involving national programs such as Alabama, Miami, Ohio State and USC among others, but no other major program has ever had a program killed for a season.
And no one since 1987 has had sanctions like the ones handed down to Penn State by NCAA president Mark Emmert.
"The SMU 'Death Penalty' was for one year - although the school decided to extend it for another year," Beebe said.
"My belief is that the Penn State penalty may be more challenging than the SMU one-year death penalty in that being unable to play in postseason for four years will be a huge detriment to recruiting."
In 1989, Beebe moved on from the NCAA to become commissioner of the Ohio Valley Conference where he stayed for 14 years before moving on to the Big 12. In 2007, he became the powerhouse conference's commissioner until resigning from the position last September. He started BMT Risk Management along with two partners to provide professional expertise in handling the workplace culture for protecting against, identifying and addressing workplace misconduct. BMT Risk Management focuses on harassment, sex abuse, discrimination, retaliation and other types of misconduct, including NCAA violations. It is a natural extension of the work he's done over the years.
While not directly involved with the "Death Penalty" case, it was his thorough investigation into SMU football that led to the 1987 sanctions. It was thought that Penn State's handling of the Sandusky incident did not qualify for the NCAA's standard of "institutional misconduct" since it was a criminal matter and not related to athletics or academics. The NCAA has never before sanctioned a program for any misconduct outside its control, such as a criminal matter.
The NCAA clearly felt that the connection to the university's athletic department was so strong so as not to be ignored.
"I know this will be the big debate about the NCAA action in this case and I understand the concern. I am sure that there will be a call for NCAA action when other crimes are committed by those connected to intercollegiate athletics," Beebe said.
"I don't think the NCAA will take action in such matters again unless there is another case like Penn State and I hope and pray no future cases are even close to that."
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