NCAA Had Doubts on Its Authority in Penn State Case

November 6, 2014

The National Collegiate Athletic Association doubted whether it had the authority to punish Pennsylvania State University over the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal, according to internal emails recently made public as part of an ongoing court case.

In one email, the sanctions eventually imposed by the NCAA against Penn State were described as an attempt to "bluff" the college. “I characterized our approach to PSU as a bluff when talking to [NCAA president Mark Emmert] yesterday afternoon after the call," wrote Julie Roe, the NCAA's then-director of enforcement. "He basically agreed b/c I think he understands that 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. I think he is okay with that risk.”

In another email, Kevin Lennon, the NCAA's vice president of academic and membership affairs, said that Penn State would accept the association's punishment because the university was "so embarrassed they will do anything." The NCAA eventually decided to vacate years of Penn State wins, suspend the university from participating in postseason games, and fine the institution $60 million. The historic punishment was criticized by some at the time as an overreach of the association's authority.

The NCAA ended Penn State's postseason ban in September, two years earlier than what the sanction had originally called for.

"Debate and thorough consideration is central in any organization, and that clearly is reflected in the selectively released emails," the NCAA said in a statement Wednesday. "The national office staff routinely provides information and counsel to the membership on tough issues. The NCAA carefully examined its authority and responsibility to act in response to the athletics department’s role detailed in the Freeh report. Ultimately, advised by all information gathered the Executive Committee determined to act and move forward with the Consent Decree."

University officials said that they found it "deeply disturbing that NCAA officials in leadership positions would consider bluffing one of their member institutions, Penn State, to accept sanctions outside of their normal investigative and enforcement process."

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