Mark Emmert talks PSU scandal

Updated: July 17, 2012, 10:04 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

NCAA president Mark Emmert has not ruled out drastically punishing Penn State football in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

Emmert gave a candid interview Monday on PBS' "Tavis Smiley," claiming that he still is waiting for Penn State's official response to the Freeh report and acknowledging that the NCAA has not eliminated the possibility of imposing severe sanctions against the school's storied football program.

"I've never seen anything as egregious as this in terms of just overall conduct and behavior inside a university and hope never to see it again," Emmert said during the interview. "What the appropriate penalties are, if there are determinations of violations, we'll have to decide.

"We'll hold in abeyance all of those decisions until we've actually decided what we want to do with the actual charges should there be any. And I don't want to take anything off the table."

Emmert gave the interview four days after Penn State released the scathing internal report by former FBI director Louis Freeh. The report concluded that late football coach Joe Paterno and other top Penn State officials concealed Sandusky's abuse of children to shield the university from bad publicity, exhibiting "callous and shocking" disregard for child victims.

Still reeling from the content of the Freeh report, Emmert did not dismiss the notion of issuing the so-called "death penalty" against Penn State, asserting that the unprecedented nature of the Sandusky scandal could warrant extreme punishment.

"This is completely different than an impermissible benefits scandal like happened at SMU, or anything else we've dealt with," Emmert said. "This is as systemic a cultural problem as it is a football problem. There have been people that said this wasn't a football scandal.

"Well it was more than a football scandal, much more than a football scandal. It was that but much more. And 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."

Emmert also said that he expects to hear back from Penn State "within weeks" regarding questions the NCAA has issued about the case, including the issue of institutional control. He consistently has maintained that the NCAA will not determine whether violations occurred until receiving the school's response.

"We're in active discussions with Penn State right now, and I need to get a response back from them soon, right away," Emmert said. "And then we're going to make that determination, and then we'll see where we go here."

Earlier Monday, Penn State president Rodney Erickson vowed cooperation with further investigations but also said decisions about the future "will take time."

Erickson wrote in a message to students, faculty and staff that the eight months since Sandusky was charged have been "heart-wrenching and difficult" and said his heart was heavy for the victims.

"We can never again allow this to happen," he said, adding that the university was committed to ensuring the safety of children on campus and increasing awareness of child sex abuse and mistreatment.

Penn State also has increased its on-campus efforts to drastically change the culture. The student group that manages the area outside Beaver Stadium named "Paternoville," where students camp out for prime football tickets, has changed the name of the tent city to "Nittanyville."

The also-renamed Nittanyville Coordination Committee said Monday that student officers decided the name change would "return the focus to the overall team and the thousands of students who support it."

On its website, the student organization that runs makeshift campgrounds said that "since it was unlikely another coach would stay as long as Coach Paterno had, changing the name for each new coach would be impractical."

"Now, it's a new era of Nittany Lion football," committee president Troy Weller said in a statement released Monday. "And by changing the name to Nittanyville, we want to return the focus to the overall team and the thousands of students who support it.

"We thank the Paterno family for their gracious assistance and support over the last several years."

Attorneys for the man Erickson replaced, former Penn State president Graham Spanier, say the Freeh report "contained numerous inaccuracies and reached conclusions that are not supported by the data."

"Mr. Freeh unfairly offered up Dr. Spanier and others to those insisting upon a finding of culpability at the highest level of the university," attorneys Elizabeth Ainslie and Peter Vaira said in a statement.

A spokesman for Freeh did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The attorneys say Spanier is looking forward to the opportunity to "set the record straight."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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