NCAA President Mark Emmert: ‘Death penalty’ has not been ruled out for Penn State

By Stephen Pianovich

Daily Collegian, Penn State U. via UWIRE

There has been much speculation since the release of former FBI Director Louis Freeh’s report was released last week as to what sanctions the NCAA, which is conducting its own investigation into Penn State, may impose on the university.

In an interview with Tavis Smiley of PBS, NCAA President Mark Emmert said he has not rejected the idea of issuing out even the NCAA’s harshest punishment — the “death penalty” — in response to the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse case.

“I’ve never seen anything as egregious as this in terms of just overall conduct and behavior inside a university, and I hope to never see it again,” Emmert said. “What the appropriate penalties are, if there are determinations and violations, we’ll have to decide. We’ll hold in abeyance all those decisions until we actually decide what we want to do with the actual charges, if there are any.”

Emmert first sent a letter to Penn State President Rodney Erickson in November shortly after former assistant coach Sandusky was first charged with child sex abuse. In the letter Emmert wrote the NCAA would be looking at Penn State’s “institutional control over its intercollegiate athletics programs, as well as the actions, and inactions of relevant personnel.”

The NCAA agreed to wait to look into the situation until Freeh’s report was finished. That time is here, and Emmert said the NCAA and Penn State are in “active discussions” about the NCAA starting to investigate and he is hoping to get a response from the university soon.

Tuesday evening, university spokesman David La Torre confirmed that Penn State will answer the NCAA within the coming days.

The only Division I football program to receive the commonly named “death penalty” — a ban from competition for at least one year — was Southern Methodist in the late 1980s. SMU’s punishment was because of paying players and other violations.

Emmert said he doesn’t “want to take anything off the table” with regard to Penn State.

“The fact is this is completely different than an impermissible benefits scandal like what 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, ‘Well this wasn’t a football scandal.’ Well it was more than a football scandal, much more than a football scandal.”

Emmert, who was President of Washington University and Chancellor at Louisiana State University before taking over as the head of the NCAA in October 2010, added the findings in Freeh’s report present an “unprecedented problem.”

“This is so big. The issue is not like anything else that college athletics has ever seen,” Emmert said. “We can’t simply walk away from this one and say ‘Gee, I don’t know if it fits the normal pattern.’ It doesn’t fit any normal pattern, thank god, but it certainly strikes at some of the core values that we hold closely.”

Emmert also said he’s followed the whole scandal at Penn State very closely, as he noted he read the grand jury report, heard testimony in the Sandusky case and has also read Freeh’s report. Emmert said it was hard for him to not conclude there were systematic failures at Penn State after reading the report.

“This isn’t about being too big to fail,” Emmert said. “It’s more like being too big to even question or even to intrude on and control. And if those are the realities that were going on in this program, we need to then, again figure out how do we fix that culture?”

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