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Friday, November 18, 2011
NCAA investigating Penn State scandal

By Brian Bennett

Not that Penn State needed any more problems, but now the NCAA has said it will look at the school's "exercise of institutional control" in the Jerry Sandusky sex-abuse scandal. Here is the letter that NCAA president Mark Emmert sent to Penn State on Thursday.


In the letter, Emmert admits that there is no specific bylaw that would oversee the type of case that has allegedly occurred in State College. But he cites articles of the NCAA manual that include school presidents' responsibilities for all aspects of an athletic department and that of unethical conduct.

"It is clear that deceitful and dishonest behavior can be found to be unethical conduct," Emmert wrote. "Surely, the spirit of this bylaw also constrains behavior that endangers young people."

Emmert asked Penn State to explain how it handled the situation and to file a response by Dec. 16.

Color me skeptical and uneasy about this whole thing. On one hand, if there's ever been an example of the NCAA phrase "lack of institutional control," then it is what allegedly occurred with the Sandusky case. For the NCAA to bring the hammer down on programs where one star player accepted some cash from an agent and not do anything where a coach allegedly raped children and other coaches and administrators are accused of covering it up makes no sense. From a perception standpoint alone, the NCAA can't be seen as doing nothing here.

But I also don't think this is necessarily the time or place for the NCAA to get involved. This is already a highly charged legal matter that will need to make its way through the court system. The NCAA has no subpoena power and is not likely to find out any information before the judicial system runs its course. The NCAA would be wiser to let answers come through testimonies and verdicts before sticking its nose into a messy situation.

Emmert also admits that no specific NCAA rules were broken here, and this looks like a can of worms that he may not want to open. Will the NCAA decide to go after schools every time there is a criminal problem now? What about when players break the law in off-campus incidents but coaches still let them play? Is that unethical conduct? What about a coach who lies to a recruit? Isn't that unethical? Yes, these examples are far less serious than what Penn State officials are accused of, but it's a slippery slope.

There's -- surprise! -- some hypocrisy going on here as well. Emmert had relied on former Penn State president Graham Spanier to be one of his chief lieutenants in the effort to reform college athletics, so now he looks pretty silly going after Spanier and his former employees. And what, ultimately, is the NCAA going to do here? Joe Paterno has already been fired and will never coach again, so it's not like there's any further way to punish him. None of the current players had anything to do with the Sandusky case, which dates back to 2002. Does stripping scholarships or issuing postseason bans that hurt the current and future players at the school really count as justice here?

Penn State has bigger issues to worry about than whatever the NCAA is planning, but now it has to deal with that, too. Given the fact that the school has an interim athletic director and now potential NCAA sanctions on top of the immeasurable damage done by this scandal, finding a new football coach who will want to take all that on seems like a Herculean task.