Baffled, Befuddled, and Bamboozled: Penn State Trustees and NCAA are Sinking


When we last left the baffled and befuddled Penn State trustees, they were trying to figure out what happened in the Great NCAA Sanctimonious Sanction.

What happened is that the NCAA bamboozled university president Dr. Rodney Erickson. The NCAA—having spent most of its history figuring out ways to make college athletics even more prominent on college campuses—suddenly found religion, created new rules, didn’t conduct an investigation, and shredded anything resembling due process. Using the Freeh Report as its newly-found Bible, NCAA president Mark Emmert piously declared he wanted Penn State to “rebuild its athletic culture,” and preached the lesson that the NCAA hoped “to make sure that the cautionary tale of athletics overwhelming core values of the institution and losing sight of why we are really participating in these activities can occur.”

It was a neat little speech, probably written by PR people. But it couldn’t be Penn State he was referring to. Penn State athletes go to classes and graduate; its football team is often at or near the top of graduation rates for Division I football programs. The university itself, even with a well-recognized party culture, is well-known for numerous academic programs that are among the best in the country.

Nevertheless, Emmert somberly told Erickson that the NCAA was seriously considering the death penalty for Penn State. Death, in NCAA terms, means a suspension of the sport for at least one season. The only time the NCAA had issued the death penalty was in 1987 against Southern Methodist University for blatant and repeated recruiting violations. Death to the Nittany Lions football program would significant harm the university and private business, and affect far more than the football team, not one of them having been involved in what is now known as the Penn State Sandusky Scandal.
But, said Emmert, have we got a deal for you. If you sign on the dotted line, we won’t kill football at Penn State, we’ll just fine you $60 million, ban you from bowl games for four years, reduce the number of scholarships, vacate the 111 wins from 1998 to 2011, require you to follow everything the Freeh Report recommended, hire an athletics monitor, comply with everything we tell you, and place you on probation for five years.

Now, every career criminal and little ole lady who accidentally shoplifts knows the police and DA aren’t serious in their first presentment of charges. They overcharge, trying to scare the defendant into a plea bargain. Plea bargains allow DAs to claim high conviction rates, while not having to get all messy with such things as jury selection and presenting evidence. So, the defendant and the DA negotiate, and a few charges are thrown out, and the defendant agrees to a lesser offense—perhaps instead of felony burglary, it becomes a misdemeanor, complete with a small fine and probation—and everyone is happy.

Dr. Erickson, with Pigskin Proud drops of perspiration flowing freely, was so relieved his university wasn’t getting the electric chair, he agreed to whatever it was that the haughty NCAA demanded, and signed the consent decree that Penn State would never ever appeal the decision.

Back in State College, the trustees, as is their history, were clueless and furious.
For years, they thought their only functions were to approve whatever the university president told them needed approving, raise tuition and fees, and get their friends good seats at football games. Now they faced a greater problem.

They had previously proven they were inept in how they handled the scandal. They had previously violated state law by their secret meetings and failure to extend any semblance of due process to Coach Joe Paterno and president Graham Spanier. Then to hide their meltdown, they commissioned Louis Freeh, former FBI director, to conduct what they claimed was an independent investigation, for which the insurance company paid about $6.5 million.

True to what the Trustees wanted, Freeh miraculously decided that the Trustees needed to reassert their power, and that the people to blame, in addition to the convicted child molester, were the former president who resigned, a now-retired senior vice-president, a former athletic director, and the dead guy, also known as Joe Paterno. Problem solved.

However, there are still a few problems. The first problem is that the Freeh investigation is just that—a private investigation that was not subject to even the basic rules of due process, the right of individuals to subpoena witnesses and to challenge their accusers under oath.

The second problem is that Jerry Sandusky, convicted of an assortment of felonies, was not employed by the university or was a football coach at the time the crimes were committed. The first suspected felony in 1998 was not prosecuted by police or the DA. The second suspected felony, seen by a graduate assistant in 2002, was reported to Paterno who properly reported it to the persons in charge of athletics and the university police, as was university procedure. However, the university, apparently, chose not to report it to police or the DA. Sandusky had retired from Penn State in 1999, and had no connection to the football team..

The third problem is that Paterno and Spanier, who faced media hysteria and took the brunt of the Trustee condemnation, were never charged with having done anything illegal, nor did they ever face their accusers in court.

Enter Ryan McCombie, a Penn State alumnus who was elected to the Board in July as a reform candidate promising to get the Board and the university to be more accountable to the people and to protect the rights of accused. McCombie isn’t some wimp in the disguise of a corporate executive. He’s a retired commanding officer of Navy Seal Team Two, and not someone to be messed with.

One month after his election, McCombie unleashed his first shot, and it wasn’t over the bow. In a letter to the NCAA, McCombie, acknowledged the suffering of Jerry Sandusky’s victims. However, he also said that the NCAA objectives that led to the sanctions “should not be achieved by ignoring or trampling upon the fundamental rights of others. The desire for speed and decisiveness cannot justify violating the due process rights of other involved individuals or the University as a whole.”

He charged that Erickson didn’t have the authority to enter into the agreement with the NCAA. He noted that the lack of an NCAA investigation violated NCAA established procedures, and were “excessive and unreasonable.” But his most powerful torpedo hit dead center. The conclusions and recommendations of the Freeh report, which the NCAA used to justify its moral outrage, was “based on assumptions, conjecture and misplaced characterizations that are contrary to available facts and evidence,” said McCombie.

The final problem is that the NCAA and most of the Penn State Trustees are still paddling in choppy seas and don’t know they have been sunk.

[Walter Brasch is a former newspaper and magazine reporter and editor and university professor. He is the author of 17 books, the most recent of which is the critically-acclaimed novel, Before the First Snow, which looks at the American counter-culture and political corruption.]



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  1. You title this trustees and ncaa are sinking but this was a one sided attack on the ncaa – McCombie has one agenda as a trustee and one agenda only – to salvage joe paternos legacy – a man who clearly turned his back on children being raped. McCombie could care less about due process and transparency for psu and the least about the actual victims in this sad horrific scandal. He ONLY cares aout joepa. Oh and this due process everyone’s always crying about – WAS followed – the FREEH report IS due process – it was an exhaustive investigation commissioned by penn state itself to get to the bottom of this – due process doesnt have to be criminal due process – and court of law – and subpoena witnesses…an internal investigation done by an organization is due process – paterno got his due process – so did penn state – and they got the punishment they deserved for allowing children to be harmed…they should have been shut down permanently…they got off extremely light – let’s not forget – CHILDREN WERE HARMED!!!

  2. bily….. you make the point. yes, children were harmed. nobody is trivializing the despicable acts of a monster. however, we live by the rule of law. the ncaa does not enforce civil law. if a stadium attendant retires and comes back and steals a car from the stadium parking lot, under this new ncaa precedent, the university has lost institutional control over the parking lot. no trial, no ncaa written procedures to follow. everybody at the university gets fined and loses 2 vacation days. our system of justice is based on a presumption of innocence, facing or your accuser, in other words, laws, regardless of how disgusting, repulsive and/or severe the crimes (not even alleged crimes, because the primary perpetrator is now convicted), may be. in trying to make itself larger than life, the ncaa has shown that it is more small, petty and vindictive than ever.

  3. although i respect your response – it’s not correct. Penn State was NOT sanctioned because Jerry Sandusky raped children. Penn State was sanctioned because they knew jerry sandusky was raping children – and they did nothing about it – in fact – they covered it up – the sanctions have nothing to do with jerry sanduskys crimes…he was convicted in a court of law and will stay in prison. The sanctions against psu are a separate issue and have nothing to do with the criminal investigation. Joe Paterno and the senior leaders chose to cover up sanduskys crimes in order to protect its football program, the money it generates, and its legacy. Thats why the ncaa had every right to – and in fact did – act swiftly and decisively. Any appeals and subsequent lawsuits are for naught and a waste of time. Penn State University accepted the Freeh Report, its findings, and its recommendations. So why shouldnt the NCAA? The BOT made a joint statement accepting the NCAA sanctions – and now you have a handful of trustees – all who became trustees on the ticket of restoring paterno’s legacy – it’s bogus and baloney and will go nowhere – and its digging psu deeper in their hole. They look defiant in the face of being punished for allowing children to be raped on campus. And lets make no mistake – jerry sandusky raped children on psu campus for decades – because penn state senior leaders allowed him to… They still have criminal trials, civil law suits, and federal trials re: clery act – The leadership is torn and tattered and they look like fools that have no idea how to lead. Its time for psu leaders to shut up…and move forward in a new direction – and stop making it about the fake victims joe paterno and the current students and players – the real victims are the children who were raped for decades under psu watch…

  4. and by the way – Duke has nothing to do with this – Duke was truly a rush to judgment…I agree completely with that – that rush to judgement in my mind was as criminal as psu leaders’ cover up.
    Did Duke have a Freeh report – did Duke have a 3 year grand jury investigation leading to a conviction of 45 counts? It doesnt compare at all…the evidence is in – paterno is a proven liar – a felonous perjur…this has nothing to do with Duke and to say so is an insult to the Duke victims ie, the players who were wrongfully presumed guilty…

  5. Thank you,bilythkid, for standing your ground and standing for those boys who were raped.

    And I totally agree, this has nothing to do with Duke and everything to do with Sandusky, Paterno and everyone else who turned a blind eye or, worse, tried to cover it up.

  6. How can freeh interview a dead person?

    so if a worker is accused of sexual harassment – and is suspended with pay during an internal investigation – and the investigation reveals the worker did indeed sexually harass the accuser – and the worker is fired – did the worker receive due process…can the institution fire the worker?
    Answer to both questions is yes – you need to get a clue…

  7. also – interviews were granted to curley and shultz and they said NO – spanier WAS interviewed by Freeh – so get your facts straight…
    All four recieved due process – its not freehs fault one died and 2 refused to talk…they refused their due process…

  8. bilythekid – you sound as if you are missing a few key points in this so called investigation and yes, Spanier was about the last person interviewed a week before the report was released. Louis Freeh is a questionable person to hire in the first place and he has a legacy of odd-ball deals; which all end up with him making millions. No one is arguing that what happened to those children was about as low as it gets. The problem is who is being blamed, the lack of due process and that is lacking here and the fact that innocent football players who had nothing to do with this are being penalized. Here is more .. Louis Freeh…

  9. I dont care what curley’s motives are – the NCAA sanctions will stand – they will not be appealed or revoked or changed in any way shape or form – how’s that for a fact? It doesnt matter what your definition of due process is – the NCCA sanctions against Penn State will stand…and they are deserved…because psu has proven they cant be trusted to protect children – so now the NCAA will do it for them…
    thanks for your input

  10. yea, Freeh is so sketchy he keeps getting hired – he’s handling MF global now – id love to be that sketchy and keep getting multi million dollar jobs…

  11. Ive lost it – but im right…ok
    Ive already mustered all the facts – if you want to look through joepa goggles thats youre right…youre definitely not alone…i see the truth…im also right that this is going to get much much worse for penn state, mark my words – stay tuned…

  12. You are correct in that it is going to get much worse and my prediction is that the NCAA is going to get sued from a few different directions. They deserve it for making such a bad call involving people who had nothing to do with the crime itself…

  13. Hello there. The Commenters Rules are at the top of the Home Page. Please read them. This site accepts civil debate, discussion and teaching, but not attacking other commenters or writers, inferring others are inferior, or other ways of belittling others. You’ll see in the rules that there will be no highjacking of the topic in the Post.

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  14. Although indicated by Webster’s as “generally a loose usage,” infer can also mean imply.

    How many New York bestsellers have you written, shutout1942 ?

  15. That should of course be “New York Times” bestsellers.

    And, of course, I am not among the ones who have published them…

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