By Eric Prisbell, USA TODAY
The NCAA appears poised to levy harsh sanctions against Penn State on Monday, when it plans to formally address a case unlike any it has dealt with in its history.
The NCAA issued a statement Sunday morning stating it will impose "corrective and punitive measures" against Penn State in the wake of the child sex-abuse scandal involving Jerry Sandusky. Senior leaders at the university were found to have covered up information for years that could have stopped Sandusky from preying on children, according to findings in the report by formerFBI director Louis Freeh.
How the NCAA should handle the Penn State case has been a source of considerable debate in recent weeks. The wrongdoing does not involve specific violations of typical NCAA bylaws. But the case points to a lack of institutional control and widespread acts of unethical conduct by high-ranking senior administrators as well as the late football coach Joe Paterno.
What's more, the NCAA is taking the uncharacteristic move of announcing the penalties publicly at a 9 a.m. ET news conference Monday in Indianapolis. There has not been an infractions committee hearing regarding the Penn State case, which suggests the NCAA and university might be in agreement on the sanctions.
NCAA President Mark Emmert, who has not ruled out shutting down the football program for a period of time, told Penn State in November that it would be examining the exercise of "institutional control" and that the NCAA had critical questions for the university.
Only one major college football program, Southern Methodist in the late 1980s, has received the so-called death penalty.
Two former chairmen of the NCAA infractions committee as well as former NCAA investigators said last week that the Penn State case, while egregious in nature and scope, might not qualify as an enforcement issue and that the NCAA's involvement in such a case would be rare, if not unprecedented.
"You might argue that by what Sandusky did do and by what Penn State did not do, that it is a violation of ethical conduct, but I don't think I have ever seen it used in that fashion," former infractions committee chairman David Swank said. "My opinion would be that it is not (an enforcement issue). There are other venues to take care of the problems that occurred at Penn State, and one of those is not the NCAA."
Chuck Smrt, who was on the NCAA enforcement staff for more than 17 years, said that the NCAA involvement in the case could open a Pandora's Box for the organization in the future regarding criminal activities on campuses across the nation.
"Then the next time an athletic staff member at another school is involved in criminal activity, are you going to look at whether other staff members were aware and followed up on that?" Smrt said. "When a coach is involved in criminal activity, does every school then need to review who knew what along the way and assess whether there has been unethical conduct? Or does it relate only to the significance of the criminal activity? And then, well, where do you draw that line?"
The former investigators said that Penn State is eligible for the death penalty even though it is not a so-called repeat violator because all punitive options are on the table in cases involving major rules violations.