The top NCAA official plans to examine all of his options in the organization’s response to Penn State’s handling of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
Speaking in a television interview on PBS’ “Tavis Smiley” show, NCAA President Mark Emmert said he doesn’t “want to take anything off the table,” including the “death penalty” for the football program, in regards to Penn State.
The NCAA has issued the death penalty to just one football program in its 106-year history. Southern Methodist University was forced to miss the 1987 season because of improper benefits provided to players, and it decided against fielding a team in 1988, citing difficulties in filling a roster.
Emmert said it’s difficult to compare the Penn State and SMU cases.
“The fact is this is completely different than an impermissible benefits scandal like what happened at SMU or anything else that we’ve dealt with,” Emmert said. “This is as systemic a cultural problem as it is a football problem.
“There have been people that have said, ‘Well, this isn’t a football scandal.’ Well, it was more than a football scandal. Much more than a football scandal. 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.”
Penn State has occupied a large part of Emmert’s time lately. He said he examined grand jury indictments and criminal trial testimony before reading the Freeh report multiple times. The 267-page report details the role four major university figures — athletics director Tim Curley, former football coach Joe Paterno, former president Graham Spanier and former vice president for finance Gary Schultz — played in covering up the scandal involving Sandusky, the longtime defensive coordinator under Paterno.
Sandusky was convicted last month on 45 of 48 counts of abusing boys and is in jail awaiting his sentencing.
Curley and Schultz are facing charges of failure to report abuse and perjury connected with a grand jury probe of a 2001 incident. A pretrial hearing for Curley and Schultz is set for Aug. 16.
Paterno, who received the 2011 NCAA President’s Gerald R. Ford Award, died of lung cancer in January.
Spanier, a former chairman of the NCAA Division I Board of Directors and Bowl Championship Series presidential oversight committee, has not yet been charged with any criminal activity related to the scandal.
“You just come away from it thinking, ‘How in the world can this happen at a great university like Penn State or any other great university?’ ” said Emmert, the NCAA’s president since 2010. “And so we’re looking at it, trying to ascertain what role the NCAA has to play. We don’t want to get involved in any of the criminal investigations or any of the civil investigations or cases that might be going on.
“But it’s pretty hard to read that report and not conclude that there were systemic failures across the institution, including and in some cases especially within the athletic department, that strikes at the heart of what education is about and what athletics is supposed to be about.”
Emmert and Penn State are involved in discussions about the university’s response to the Freeh report. Emmert said he expects a response from Penn State within “weeks, not months.”
Emmert sent a letter to Penn State President Rodney Erickson last Nov. 17 outlining four questions the university must answer regarding its handling of the scandal:
Erickson told the Centre Daily Times on Tuesday that Penn State will issue its response to the letter in the “near future.”
“Certainly I’m concerned about it,” Erickson said of the possibility of severe sanctions. “But, this is a situation where we have indicated that we’ll provide the best information that we can, and we’ll work with the NCAA and we’ll go from there.”
A secretary for acting athletics director Dave Joyner referred a call seeking a response to Emmert’s interview to university spokesman David La Torre.
La Torre said in an email that the university is cooperating fully with all investigations and maintaining an open dialogue with the NCAA.
“Penn State takes the findings of the Freeh report seriously,” La Torre said. “Following a thorough review of the report, the University will respond as soon as possible to all NCAA questions in writing.”
La Torre said Penn State will have no further comment about the NCAA investigation.
Guy Cipriano can be reached at 231-4643. Follow him on Twitter @cdtguy