NCAA President Mark Emmert said in an interview with PBS's Tavis Smiley that he will not rule out the death penalty for Penn State's football program in the wake of the Freeh Report's findings that members of the administration and athletic department, including legendary coach Joe Paterno, "failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade." Long-time defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was convicted on 45 counts in connection to sexual abuse that sometimes took place within the Penn State locker room and showers.
The death penalty, which bans a school from competing in a sport for at least one season, has only been implemented on one major college football program, SMU in 1987 and 1988.
"I’ve never seen anything as egregious as this in terms of overall conduct and behavior inside of a university," Emmert told Smiley about the situation at Penn State. "I hope never to see it again. What the appropriate penalties are, if there are determinations of violations, we’ll have to decide...
"I don’t want to take anything off the table. The fact is, this is completely different than an impermissible benefits scandal that happened at SMU or anything else we’ve dealt with. This is as systemic a cultural problem as it is a football problem.
"There have been people who’ve said this wasn’t a football scandal. Well, it was more than a football scandal. Much more than a football scandal. It was that, and much more. 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."
The repercussions of the penalty were severe for SMU. Once one of the top programs in college football, the school only recently became competitive again. The Mustangs had a winning record in only one of the first 20 seasons after returning from the death penalty, before finishing at or above .500 in the past three seasons.
Because of the long-term damage to the program, many believe the NCAA would hesitate to use the death penalty again. But Emmert rejected that rationale.
"Again, I don’t want to prejudge where we will wind up with penalties, but right now is a very special moment in the history of the NCAA," Emmert said. "There’s an enormous amount of political courage... to do the right thing on a variety of cases, and we’ve been demonstrating that again and again on a variety of cases. Whatever penalty structure is put in place again, if there’s findings of violations of our rules, the decisions will not be based upon whether people want to be courageous or not.”