Penn State

NCAA’s former top investigator blasts Penn State President Erickson in email

Penn State President Rodney Erickson speaks during the meeting.  The Penn State Board of Trustees met  January 20, 2012, at the Nittany Lion Inn on the Penn State campus.  Nabil K. Mark
Penn State President Rodney Erickson speaks during the meeting. The Penn State Board of Trustees met January 20, 2012, at the Nittany Lion Inn on the Penn State campus. Nabil K. Mark

The NCAA’s former enforcement director said last year that Penn State’s president “sold the school down the river” by accepting the sanctions that punished the university for the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal.

The comments were revealed this week in a series of emails that the investigator, Ameen Najjar, wrote in August to Nevin Shapiro, a former University of Miami football booster who blew the whistle on eight years of alleged NCAA violations at the south Florida school. Outside of the reference to Penn State, the emails had nothing to do with PSU and were filed as exhibits in a bankruptcy case for Shapiro, who is serving a 20-year sentencing for orchestrating a $930 billion Ponzi scheme.

According to the emails obtained by the Centre Daily Times, Najjar contacted Shapiro in jail to tell him why the NCAA’s investigation into Miami was falling apart.

The email that blasted Penn State President Rodney Erickson was written Aug. 7, 2012. Two months before that, though, Najjar had been fired by the NCAA for what reportedly ignoring orders from the organization’s lawyers not to pay Shapiro’s attorney during the investigation into Miami.

“The Penn State deal is a travesty,” Najjar wrote to Shapiro’s jail email account. “The NCAA did not impose anything, Penn State agreed to and self-imposed the penalties, waived all due process and waived any right to appeal.

“The NCAA had/has NO authority to impose any penalties in that situation and PSU’s president sold the school down the river.”

Erickson has said his hands were tied — it was either accept the unprecedented sanctions or face years of no football.

Penn State spokesman David La Torre on Wednesday blasted the notions suggested in Najjar’s email and dismissed Najjar as someone who had nothing to do with the discussions between the NCAA and the university.

“It’s disappointing the university has to comment on a statement from a former NCAA investigator to the subject of his investigation,” La Torre said. “This investigator was not involved in any discussions involving Penn State and the NCAA.

“Throughout all of this, Penn State President Rodney Erickson has been consistent in his account. Faced with the very real threat of the death penalty, as expressly acknowledged by the NCAA in the consent decree, he was left with no choice but to sign the consent decree. It was one of the most difficult things he has had to do in his 36 years of service to Penn State University.”

The NCAA has been a lightning rod for criticism since the sanctions were imposed last summer, and the calls have gotten stronger since the release a report from the family of head coach Joe Paterno that sought to rebut the conclusions of the Freeh report.

Last month, at the university’s board of trustees meeting in Hershey, several Penn State lettermen called on university officials to ask to have the sanctions removed. Former Nittany Lion tight end Mickey Shuler said he wanted the board to work toward getting the NCAA to restore the scholarships that were cut as part of the sanctions.

Meanwhile, Penn State officials have been working to put in place the more than 100 recommendations suggested in the Freeh report, which included conducting national searches for top positions when they become vacant, implementing policies to protect children on campus and hiring new positions to help with compliance.

Trustee Paul Silvis told the Centre Daily Times in February that he thought the work that officials had done might result in the NCAA reducing the sanctions.

But in an ESPN radio show last month, NCAA President Mark Emmert put the kibosh on that.

“We’re confident in the decisions that we made,” Emmert told ESPN hosts Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic. “The facts were the facts, and we operated on those. I guess if somebody were to come forward with a whole new set of facts, that would change the world, but otherwise, we’re comfortable with where we are and know that we did it the right way.”