Penn State Football: Reacting to the Freeh Report

The investigation into the Jerry Sandusky scandal led by former FBI Director Louis Freeh came to a conclusion this week in the form of a detailed report that, simply put, crushes the university and its celebrated football program.  While there are plenty of apologists and PSU-defenders still clinging to their opinions, the general consensus is that the report revealed what most of us suspected to be true.

Spanier and Paterno were at the heart of a cover up that allowed Jerry Sandusky to continue his sexual crimes (Pusakar/ AP)

Former President Graham Spanier, former Athletic Director Tim Curley, former Vice President Gary Schultz, and, perhaps most notably, former head football coach Joe Paterno spearheaded a cover-up of Sandusky’s illicit behavior.  As far back as 1998 this foursome knew of allegations of sexual misconduct against Sandusky.  Their collective decision to conceal the repugnant reality of what happened wasn’t just immoral, but illegal as well.

First, the illegal.

Penn State failed to comply with the Clery Act for more than 20 years:

“The act requires universities to collect statistics relating to certain types of crime, including sexual offenses, and publish those statistics in an annual report. Each university must collect its data from designated Campus Security Authorities (CSAs). According to the Department of Education, CSAs include a wide variety of university employees, including, “A director of athletics, a team coach or faculty advisor to a student group.”

The university also failed to comply with state laws related to mandatory reporting of child abuse:

(a)  General rule. Under 23 Pa.C.S. §  6311 (relating to persons required to report suspected child abuse), licensees who, in the course of the employment, occupation or practice of their profession, come into contact with children shall report or cause a report to be made to the Department of Public Welfare when they have reasonable cause to suspect on the basis of their professional or other training or experience, that a child coming before them in their professional or official capacity is a victim of child abuse.

The four university leaders committed perjury by lying to a grand jury about their knowledge of details in the case.  Paterno’s death will obviously impact some of the potential prosecution for such offenses, but Spanier, Curley, and Schultz could very well face serious consequences.

Freeh’s report leaves little room for debate on Penn State’s culpability (AP photo)

Remember too that Penn State is a public institution receiving both federal and state funding, and there is a very real possibility that other laws, policies, and regulations were violated as well.  We know, for example, that Sandusky retired with “an unprecedented $168,000 lump-sum” payment and an Emeritus title that he had failed to earn according to PSU policy.  That title was conferred anyway based on promises made to Sandusky by PSU leadership.  In essence, these were bribes to convince Sandusky to recede quietly into the background.

Of course, he did anything but disappear.  And that brings us to the immoral.

Sandusky retained access to Penn State facilities for years, and his involvement with Second Mile essentially created a pipeline of victims.  With plenty of young boys at his disposal and the means by which to assault them, Sandusky’s crimes went unpunished and largely ignored for years despite the fact that four of the most powerful men in the state knew what he was doing.

This cover-up has now been well-documented, exposed to the public and assessed by every major media outlet in the nation.  What happened was inexcusable, absolutely repulsive, unforgivable, and, worst of all, entirely avoidable.

Any suggestion that Paterno was a victim of Sandusky’s deceit or ability to hide what he was doing went out the window with the release of Freeh’s report.  There is no way to absolve Paterno of his role in this scandal.  There is no way to explain aways his actions (or inaction) or mitigate his responsibility.

What was once speculation is now conclusive: Joe Paterno didn’t want his sovereign football kingdom to be smeared by Sandusky’s behavior.  The university didn’t want to be leveled by a shockwave of bad publicity.  So these men hid the truth.  In doing so they aided and abetted Sandusky’s crime spree.

Said Freeh’s report, Penn State leaders “empowered Sandusky to attract potential victims to the campus and football events by allowing him to have continued, unrestricted and unsupervised access (that) provided Sandusky with the very currency that enabled him to attract his victims.”

Crimes against children are particularly reprehensible.  Sexual crimes against children may be the worst of all possible offenses.  Imagine a child you know– your son, brother, nephew, cousin.  Imagine what it would be like to look at him and know he was raped.  Attacked.  Molested by a man he was supposed to trust.  And imagine further that powerful authorities knew it was happening and did nothing to stop it.  They were more concerned with image than with the children.  More concerned with things like fundraising and reputation than with common decency.

Penn State is an institution of higher learning.  A mecca of education.  Yet what was our lesson here?  These men, who were supposed to be overseeing the teaching of thousands upon thousands of students…what have they taught us?

Sandusky’s long-term involvement with the PSU football program and the cover up perpetuated by the athletic department demand NCAA involvement (Vathis/ AP)

In the midst of the fallout is the question of what should happen to PSU athletics, and particularly the football program.  Compared to the lives that have been ruined, football is certainly a minor concern.  However, it is also an issue that cannot be ignored.

Because the Head Coach and the Athletic Director were directly involved in this conspiracy, the NCAA is necessarily involved.  We’ve seen individuals and football program punished for all manner of violations over the years, but do any of those compare to the facts in this case?  Not by a long shot.

On the one hand, what Paterno and Curley did probably didn’t impact on-field play.  It likely had no bearing on competitive advantage, recruiting, or any other procedures central to football operations.  What they did has little to do with the current crop of players and coaches who don’t deserve to be punished.

On the other, there is simply no way for the NCAA to justify a lack of consequences here.

The NCAA has shown that it will punish institutions for the actions of individuals even after those individuals are no longer involved with the program.  USC saw Pete Carroll escape to the NFL but still suffered sanctions for violations related to impermissible benefits.  Jim Tressel’s departure from Columbus didn’t spare Ohio State from a post-season ban.  Joe Paterno willfully and knowingly covered for a sex offender for more than a decade, all the while preaching the virtues of doing things the right way to his players.  His Athletic Director did the same.

If that’s not a lack of insitutional control, then what is?

But beyond Paterno and Curley, Penn State allowed and fostered a culture where Sandusky used perks and gifts related to Nittany Lion football in order to lure and trap his victims.  The football program is inextricably tied up in this mess, and not by accident.

NCAA President Mark Emmert must act decisively in the wake of this scandal (Cummings/ AP)

Institutional control.  Compliance.  Ethics.  These were grossly violated in a manner far worse than anything in the history of college football, and the consequence should fit the crime.  Is it fair that the Penn State teams of today and tomorrow should suffer for the mistakes of the past?  Not really.  But the university has to be accountable for what it did and for what it failed to do.

To date, the harshest punishment ever levied by the NCAA has been the “Death Penalty”, a total ban on competition in a given sport.  It was been handed down only a few times.  The most relevant example is Southern Methodist football, which was shut down in 1987 and part of 1988 for payments made to players and other violations.

Whether the NCAA would implement the Death Penalty in this case is up for debate.  It typically requires an existing status of probation, which Penn State didn’t have.  However, it’s foolish to assume that there’s any meaningful precedent here.  Nothing in NCAA history could possibly prepare us for this scandal.

And it’s difficult to see how a program systematically covering up child rape could warrant anything less than the toughest of crackdowns.  In light of all that has happened, shutting down the Penn State football program is an appropriate response.

  • KenS

    I agree with your overall conclusion that there can not be a “gray area” here, either football stays or goes. No temporary-stay-of-execution seems correct. I find it sort of ironic that this report follows on the heels of “Gee, the NCAA finally is doing something great by instituting a football playoff.” The playoff is inexorably linked to Paterno’s actions – Money rules. But I hope the school itself acts first and leaves the NCAA out of it. The NCAA is not ready for this. They get scrutinized enough for how they deal with cheating.

    This whole mess may be highlighting a bigger horror than any child predator can inflict-how colleges, with out of control tuition costs, and their governing body have become like corporations looking to make a profit instead of an institution attempting to prepare adults for productive lives. I can’t see a winner here no matte how it all shakes down.

  • KenS

    I agree with your overall conclusion that there can not be a “gray area” here, either football stays or goes. No temporary-stay-of-execution seems correct. I find it sort of ironic that this report follows on the heels of “Gee, the NCAA finally is doing something great by instituting a football playoff.” The playoff is inexorably linked to Paterno’s actions – Money rules. But I hope the school itself acts first and leaves the NCAA out of it. The NCAA is not ready for this. They get scrutinized enough for how they deal with cheating.

    This whole mess may be highlighting a bigger horror than any child predator can inflict-how colleges, with out of control tuition costs, and their governing body have become like corporations looking to make a profit instead of an institution attempting to prepare adults for productive lives. I can’t see a winner here no matte how it all shakes down.

  • Jeff D

    Penn State is going to leave Joe’s statue up but they are going to turn it around so that it’s looking the other way.

  • Jeff D

    Penn State is going to leave Joe’s statue up but they are going to turn it around so that it’s looking the other way.