Internal NCAA emails released as part of a lawsuit over sanctions given to Penn State for the Jerry Sandusky scandal reveal that the organization questioned if it had the authority to punish the school, even describing its attempts as a "bluff."
The emails show various senior NCAA officials debating whether they had standing in the matter since it involved criminal actions and not necessarily any issues of athletic competitive balance. Some NCAA officials argue in the emails that the organization has authority to punish Penn State because the revelation of the scandal at an earlier time would have severely hurt the program, meaning it enjoyed a relative competitive advantage by Sandusky's crimes staying hidden as long as they did.
But several officials recognized the tenuousness of the claim, essentially admitting that they hoped Penn State would accept the presented sanctions because the school believed the NCAA had the authority to impose them. From the emails:
“We could try to assert jurisdiction on this issue and may be successful but it’d be a stretch,” wrote former NCAA Vice President of Enforcement Julie Roe in an email on July 14, 2012, 10 days before the sanctions were announced. “I characterized our approach to PSU as a bluff when talking to Mark [Emmert] yesterday afternoon after the call. He basically agreed b/c if we make this an enforcement issue, we may win the immediate battle but lose the war when the COI [Committee on Infractions] has to rule.”
NCAA vice president of academic and membership affairs Kevin Lennon wrote the same day that "we are banking on the fact the school is so embarrassed they will do anything."
Additionally, in a previous email on July 12 titled "The Sounds of Silence," Oregon State president and chairman of the NCAA executive committee Ed Ray questioned whether the organization should renew efforts to launch its own "assessment of issues" at Penn State.
"The sounds of silence are not good. If Penn State could have Louie Freeh conduct an investigation over the last year, why haven't we done anything?"
The NCAA put out a statement in response to the release of the emails on Wednesday, saying the emails reflect how "debate and thorough consideration is central in any organization." From the statement:
"The NCAA carefully examined its authority and responsibility to act in response to the athletics department’s role detailed in the Freeh report."
After Sandusky, the former longtime Penn State coach, was convicted of 45 counts of sexual abuse in 2012, the NCAA enacted sanctions on the school that included the vacating of all wins from 1998 to 2011, scholarship restrictions, a postseason ban and a $60 million fine that would go towards programs to help prevent child abuse.
Penn State president Rodney Erickson, who took over from Graham Spanier after Spanier was ousted over the Sandusky scandal, and the school's board of trustees did not contest the NCAA's sanctions.
Pennsylvania state senator Jake Corman filed suit against the NCAA in January 2013 in an attempt to have the entirety of the $60 million fine used on programs within the state. The NCAA had said that just 25 percent of the fine would be used for programs within Pennsylvania.
Earlier this fall, the NCAA restored Penn State's postseason eligibility and lifted its scholarship restrictions because of how the program and university have responded since the punishment was handed down. The scholarship restrictions had been lessened last year for the same reason.
Sandusky is currently serving 30 to 60 years in prison.
- Ben Estes