Sex. Scandal. College. The headlines are mushrooming.
But they aren’t about Penn State.
Three years after the events that rocked Happy Valley heading into Thanksgiving, the stories are out there, but the storms are being weathered by other communities.
In Corvallis, Ore., it started Nov. 14, with an Oregon Live story, a brutal account of the 1998 gang-rape of a young waitress by four young men, two of them Oregon State football players.
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Although the victim sought medical help after the seven-hour assault and made a report to police, according to the story, she declined to prosecute. The four men were arrested, but without her cooperation, the charges of sex abuse, unlawful sexual penetration, sodomy and rape went away, along with potential sentences of up to 16 years in jail.
Today, Oregon State is run by Ed Ray. If the name is familiar in Nittany Lion country, it might be because he was the chairman of the NCAA’s executive committee in 2012 when it voted to deliver unprecedented sanctions against Penn State after the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
Although there were questions about the NCAA’s authority to exact that punishment, emails recently released in connection with a related lawsuit showed the college sports organization discussing “bluffing” Penn State into accepting the penalties, including a $60 million fine, a four-year bowl ban, a five-year suspension, restrictions on scholarships and the stripping of 112 football victories.
Ray echoed the NCAA’s reasoning in a 2012 interview with ESPN.
“The heinous nature of it, if anything, simply added to the sense that there is a common understanding of what needs to be done in a punitive way and in a corrective way,” he said.
The reasons the NCAA gave for the response boiled down to two words: institutional control.
“The term ‘institutional control’ sounds ominous,” the NCAA’s website says. “But institutional control itself is a good and essential concept that links varsity athletics programs with higher education. Without it, any college athletics program is not much more than a bunch of kids playing games.”
Ray had no part in Oregon State’s response to the 1998 rape. At the time, he was a provost at Ohio State. He declined to speak about the rape or the Penn State case due to pending litigation. Ray is a named defendant in the case brought by the estate of the late Joe Paterno for breach of contract.
“Everything we see in America today, even worldwide, has informed our response when we heard of the horrific assault suffered by (the victim),” Oregon State spokesman Steve Clark said. “This is a very unsettling event because it was a young lady, it involved two former members of the football team.”
He said it was being taken very seriously and that today, action would be pursued even without victim participation, seeking to protect other students and community members.
Then came the University of Virginia.
A Rolling Stone article last week alleged an ongoing culture of rape at one of the oldest colleges in the country, a bastion of learning and propriety where proper attire for football games involves a string of pearls or a coat and tie. The main focus of the article was a freshman who allegedly was gang-raped at a fraternity party.
The news has dealt a staggering blow to Charlottesville, Va., a town that was civil and welcoming when Penn State fans walked in for the first post-Sandusky road game.
“The wrongs described in Rolling Stone are appalling and have caused all of us to reexamine our responsibility to this community. Rape is an abhorrent crime that has no place in the world, let alone on the campuses and grounds of our nation’s colleges and universities,” President Teresa Sullivan said in a statement on the UVA website Saturday. “We know, and have felt very powerfully this week, that we are better than we have been described, and that we have a responsibility to live our tradition of honor every day, and as importantly every night.”
Sullivan’s statement went on to say that she had asked the Charlottesville Police Department to investigate the 2012 assault described in Rolling Stone.
“There are individuals in our community who know what happened that night, and I am calling on them to come forward to the police to report the facts,” she said. “Only you can shed light on the truth, and it is your responsibility to do so. Alongside this investigation, we as a community must also do a systematic evaluation of our culture to ensure that one of our founding principles — the pursuit of truth — remains a pillar on which we can stand. There is no greater threat to honor than secrecy and indifference.”
UVA has had other problems in the past.
Last year, a football recruit had legal troubles. In 2011, three players were charged with battery. In another incident, five players were arrested on assault charges. In 2008, Cavalier Daily sports columnist Paul Wiley wrote about discipline problems with the team, including the sobering statistic that between the end of the 2007 season and the start of the 2008, 10 players were arrested or left due to academic problems.
He spoke about the honor code and wanting to see his team excel as players and people.
The NCAA was contacted for comment about both the UVA and Oregon State cases, but did not respond. The silence was telling for some in Happy Valley.
“The NCAA is similar to the Penn State board of trustees. Both are very insular and both have persons who lack the courage to stand in the face of political correctness,” Penn State trustee Anthony Lubrano said. “Seems to me that they get involved in business where they have no authority and fail to involve themselves where they seemingly should. Its members could do themselves a favor and reorganize this public-relations, money-driven organization for the protection of the young men and women about whom they profess to be. They are all hypocrites.”
There is also a question about silence in a nonsexual matter that does seem squarely within NCAA’s authority — the allegations of 18 years of academic fraud at the University of North Carolina.
“Regarding the NCAA, its charter is very clear that the organization will not involve itself in criminal matters that may occur at its member institutions. Its history supports adherence to that philosophy, with the exception of its unwarranted and draconian punishment of Penn State,” said Maribeth Roman Schmidt, of Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship. “The NCAA kept a distance from criminal cases at UVA, Oregon State, and Baylor. But ... is strangely silent regarding the recent UNC case specifically related to its core mission of the education of student athletes. Unfortunately, the NCAA has truly lost its way, proving over and over again to be the true example of an institution out of control.”
The NCAA’s website speaks to the importance of fairness in a world of sports measured in lines, inches and sportsmanlike conduct.
“Our goal is to further strengthen our culture of personal responsibility and individual accountability. Unfortunately, some people will try to break the rules — but in order to ensure a fair system, the rules and the consequences have to apply to everyone. No exceptions,” the website’s page on fairness and integrity states.