NCAA Head: “Death Penalty" Possible, Lawyer Thinks Unlikely
The president of the NCAA said he isn't ruling out the possibility of shutting down the Penn State football program in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, but a well-known sports lawyer said he thinks it is unlikely that will happen.
In an interview Monday night on PBS's Tavis Smiley Show, NCAA President Mark Emmert said he doesn't want to "take anything off the table" if the NCAA determines penalties against Penn State are warranted. Emmert said he's "never seen anything as egregious as this in terms of just overall conduct and behavior inside a university."
Don Jackson is the Principal of "The Sports Group," based in Montgomery, Alabama. He believes the NCAA's rules do not cover Sandusky's criminal conduct. "[The rules] are focused on preventing schools from getting an artificial advantages based on academic issues, based on passing extra benefits, things of value to student athletes… That's what the rules are intended to prevent," said Jackson.
Some have argued that the NCAA could use its rules that punish unethical conduct as was seen in a case involving a murder at Baylor University, but Jackson disagrees.
"You've got to have an underlying violation of existing NCAA legislation," said Jackson. "Unethical conduct historically has been directed toward individuals attempting to cover up or asking others to help cover up an NCAA violation."
However, Jackson said this does not mean Penn State will get off without punishment. NCAA investigators could begin looking at Sandusky's contact with his victims outside of the sexual misconduct. If Sandusky were to have taken kids in the 9th through 12th grades to a practice, game or to use a university-owned facility, it could be a violation of NCAA rules. The investigation could even uncover such conduct among other members of the staff.
"You can virtually find violations any day in any program anywhere in the United states," said Jackson.
This investigation could last several years, said Jackson. In fact, Jackson said it should be a marathon more than a sprint. "If it is a sprint I think there is a great likelyhood of finding an abuse of discretion either by the committee on infractions or sort of a rush to judgment by the enforcement staff if they sprint through this," said Jackson.
The last time the NCAA shut down a football program with the so-called "death penalty" was in the 1980s, when SMU was forced to drop the sport because of extra benefits violations. After the NCAA suspended the SMU program for the 1987 season and from hosting games in 1988, the school decided not to play in 1988, either, as it tried to regroup.
"This is completely different than an impermissible benefits scandal like [what] 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 that said this wasn't a football scandal," Emmert said.
Jackson has been calling on the NCAA to adopt rules that would allow schools to be punished for criminal activities among its players, coaches and administrators that do not have direct impact on the field of play. "Maybe now is the time to come in, reevaluate existing legislation and take a look at how criminal conduct, serious crimes, can be impacted in the future," Jackson said.
In the meantime, a judge has set a date to hear oral arguments on pretrial motions in the case of two former Penn State officials charged with perjury and failing to report suspected child sexual abuse.
A statement from Dauphin County Court officials Tuesday said the hearing for former university Athletic Director Timothy Curley and former university Vice President Gary Schultz will be August 16.
Curley and Schultz are awaiting trial on charges they lied to a grand jury investigating former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, and didn't properly report suspected child abuse.
Sandusky is in prison, awaiting sentencing, after being convicted of dozens of abuse-related charges last month.