Emails reveal NCAA knew it didn’t have jurisdiction over PSU
Internal NCAA e-mails released as part of state Sen. Jake Corman’s suit against the NCAA and Penn State indicate the uncertainty that NCAA staff felt about penalizing Penn State over the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. Those emails preceded one of the strongest, most drastic penalties handed down by college sports’ governing body.
The website Onward State published the e-mails, which were released as part of Corman’s motion that the NCAA be forced to provide documents that it had been withholding.
“We could try to assert jurisdiction on this issue and may be successful, but it’d be a stretch,” wrote former NCAA Vice President of Enforcement Julie Roe Lach in an e-mail on July 14, 10 days before the NCAA’s sanctions were announced. “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 (Committee on Infractions) has to rule.”
Penn State president Eric Barron released a statement late Wednesday that read, “We find it deeply disturbing that NCAA officials in leadership positions would consider bluffing one of their member institutions, Penn State, to accept sanctions outside of their normal investigative and enforcement process.
“We are considering our options. It is important to understand, however, that Penn State is in the midst of a number of legal and civil cases associated with these matters. We therefore have no additional comment. We also want it to be clear: Penn State’s commitment to the fight against child abuse and to the implementation of best practice governance, ethics and compliance programs and policies remain steadfast.”
The e-mails also revealed that NCAA officials knew they had no jurisdictional claim over Penn State but chose to act anyway with the assumption that the university would comply based on fear of embarrassment.
“I know we are banking on the fact the school is so embarrassed they will do anything, but I am not sure about that, and no confidence conference or other members will agree to that,” NCAA Vice President of Academic and Membership Affairs Kevin Lennon wrote in an e-mail. “This will force the jurisdictional issue that we really don’t have a great answer to that one … .”
Later that July, the NCAA handed down a set of penalties including a four-year postseason football ban, reduction of scholarships and a $60 million fine. The school also was forced to vacate all of its football wins from 1998-2011.
The NCAA said in a statement Wednesday, “Debate and thorough consideration is central in any organization, and that clearly is reflected in the selectively released emails. The national office staff routinely provides information and counsel to the membership on tough issues.
“The NCAA carefully examined its authority and responsibility to act in response to the athletics department’s role detailed in the Freeh report. Ultimately, advised by all information gathered the Executive Committee determined to act and move forward with the Consent Decree.”
Since rendering its decision on Penn State, the NCAA has lessened the penalties’ severity, restoring Penn State’s postseason eligibility for the 2014 season and allowing the program to return to a full 85 scholarship roster in 2015, citing “progress toward ensuring its athletics department functions with integrity.”
Roe and Lennon also debated whether the school gained a competitive edge as a result of Sandusky’s abuse not being revealed in 1998.
“I think Mark believes based on conversations with some presidents that PSU did gain an advantage although Berst, Wally and I disagree with that point,” Roe wrote. “The point some have made is that had PSU dealt with this in 2001, they might have suffered a recruiting disadvantage due to the bad publicity at that point. Given that they have a decent recruiting class now, not sure this holds up.”