Emails detail collaboration between Penn State investigator and NCAA
As he investigated the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal for Penn State University, former FBI director Louis Freeh and his investigators collaborated with NCAA executives who then used Freeh’s report to impose strict sanctions on the university, court filings suggest.
More than 100 pages of emails and related documents illustrate a close relationship between the NCAA and Freeh’s agency, complete with in-person meetings, extensive questions and weekly conference calls, attorneys for state Sen. Jake Corman argued this week in Commonwealth Court.
Corman, a Centre County Republican and the new Senate majority leader, is lead plaintiff in a lawsuit questioning the validity of NCAA-imposed sanctions at Penn State and demanding that proceeds from a $60 million fine stay in Pennsylvania.
“The contacts were routine and substantive, and involved multiple third parties,” Corman’s attorneys wrote.
They collected the internal correspondence during a discovery phase of the litigation, which is scheduled for trial in January.
Though Penn State and the NCAA said the documents show a professional relationship in line with the university’s plans, some activist alumni spotted sinister undertones.
“Sadly, with today’s news, we have learned that the real objective was to place the blame on Penn State football so that the NCAA could hand down harsh sanctions and thereby prop up its faltering image. In doing so, Louis Freeh obscured the lessons that should have been learned from this tragedy and did a terrible disservice to children everywhere,” Elizabeth Morgan, a co-founder of Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship, said in a statement.
Representatives for Freeh Group International Solutions and state Treasurer Rob McCord, a co-plaintiff with Corman, declined to comment. Corman could not be reached but told ESPN that Freeh “went way past his mandate.”
“He was the enforcement person for the NCAA. That’s what it looks like,” Corman told the cable sports network.
Penn State paid $8.2 million for Freeh’s investigation, which explored how the school handled Sandusky, 70, a retired assistant football coach, before his arrest in November 2011.
Freeh found several former top executives at the school failed for years to stop Sandusky from preying on boys. Three ex-administrators are awaiting trial on criminal cover-up charges.
The NCAA used Freeh’s conclusions as a basis to introduce unprecedented sanctions against Penn State in July 2012, including a temporary ban on post-season football bowl games, a reduction in football scholarships and the erasure of football victories from 1998 through 2011.
“It’s been public knowledge for almost three years that the NCAA and the Big Ten Conference would monitor the progress of the Freeh investigation,” the university said in a statement. “While the NCAA may have made suggestions to the Freeh Group with respect to its investigation, the scope of the Freeh investigation was established by the Penn State board of trustees, as set forth in the Freeh engagement letter, not by the NCAA.”
NCAA chief legal officer Donald Remy said in a statement that the emails “do not suggest anything surprising, and characterizations to the contrary are irresponsible.”
The disclosure follows other NCAA internal documents released last week that indicate uncertainty within its ranks over its jurisdiction to impose forceful penalties.
Penn State might have hoped to garner favorable treatment by allowing the Freeh group to share information with the NCAA, said Robert Del Greco Jr., a Pittsburgh defense attorney watching the case. He saw nothing wrongful about the exchange as long as Penn State approved it.
“It’s almost analogous to telling a sanctioning agency, whether it be the police or someone else, that we are going to be forthright and honest, and we hope that will be taken into consideration when you mete out a sentence,” Del Greco said.
Adam Smeltz is a Trib Total Media staff writer.