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Post Freeh Report, Will NCAA Sanction Penn State?


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renée Montagne. The damning report on Penn State by former FBI director Louis Freeh confirmed, last week, what many said all along - the scandal is the biggest and most damaging in the history of college sports. Of course, child sexual abuse and a cover-up go way beyond the infractions commonly punished by the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

It typically polices things like illegal athlete recruitment or academic fraud. Now the focus has turned on what, if anything, the NCAA a will do to punish Penn State. NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: About two weeks after Jerry Sandusky was first arrested last November, NCAA president Mark Emmert wrote a letter to the new Penn State president Rodney Erickson. In it, Emmert essentially said his organization would investigate whether Penn State failed to control its athletic programs and the ethical conduct of people in them. Emmert asked the university to respond to four specific questions about compliance with NCAA rules, but he and Erickson agreed Penn State could delay the responses until it finished its own investigation.

LOUIE FREEH: The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized.

GOLDMAN: The internal investigation ended with Louie Freeh's dramatic report. Emmert and Erickson spoke the same day. Erickson said the university would respond to the four questions in the very near future. How it responds will help determine what action, if any, the NCAA takes.

MICHAEL MCCANN: I think it would be difficult for the NCAA to do nothing.

GOLDMAN: Michael McCann directs the Sports Law Institute at Vermont Law School.

MCCANN: When it has, in the past, addressed things like players getting free tattoos at Ohio State and players getting money under the table at the University of Southern California, those matters seem incredibly trivial compared to this.

GOLDMAN: The harshest sanction would be the so-called death penalty: shutting down Penn State football for a year or two. McCann says it would have a devastating effect on Penn State, considering the impact football has on the university.

MCCANN: The amount of money it brings in, fundraising, the fact that it attracts students probably to apply there and to go there if they get into the school.

GOLDMAN: The death penalty's been handed down five times in the past 60 years - the most well-known case was with Southern Methodist University football in the late 1980's. SMU violated financial rules numerous times; the school was a repeat offender. Penn State is not, in the sense that the Sandusky scandal was a first offense, albeit one that allegedly stretched on for more than a decade.

The lack of repeat offense may be a saving factor for Penn State. But if no death penalty, then what? Reductions in football scholarships? A ban on post-season play? People who support sanctions say those are laughable slaps on the wrist considering the enormity of the crimes. People who don't support sanctions include Gary Roberts. He's dean of the Indiana University Law School.

GARY ROBERTS: For the NCAA to have the kind of power to discipline institutions because members of their athletic program or their senior leadership engage in immoral or illegal conduct that really has nothing to do with athletics, I think that's very worrisome.

GOLDMAN: Roberts says the NCAA isn't meant to be a law enforcement agency and Penn State will suffer plenty, he says, even without sanctions.

ROBERTS: I think the whole institution has been damaged. And I have friends on the faculty at Penn State who tell me that this is going to have a ripple effect that goes way beyond just athletics.

GOLDMAN: And, many hope, beyond Penn State. Roberts thinks the best course for the NCAA is, in his words, to use its bully pulpit to remind member institutions don't let athletics get too important, too influential, that it blinds people to reality.

ROBERTS: This is not something that anybody misses the message on.

GOLDMAN: Except maybe those member institutions? Sports writes: All around the country, schools are building football fortresses. They are paying head coaches $5 million a year and giving them unchecked freedom to make decisions about more than just X's and O's. The Freeh report is a 267 page message about the danger of unchecked sports power.

Considering the growth in big-time college football, there are those, including inside the NCAA, who believe a significant penalty for Penn State would send a message too. Tom Goldman, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on