Now that Jerry Sandusky is behind bars, some outraged people across the country want to see the Penn State football program punished for the way Joe Paterno and other school officials handled the child sex abuse scandal.
One source very familiar with how the NCAA operates told the Mirror he doesn't believe the governing body should or will levy sanctions against the Nittany Lion football program. Doing so, he said, would venture outside the scope of the NCAA's jurisdiction.
"I don't think this is an area that the NCAA can encroach in," said Ohio University assistant professor David Ridpath, one of the nation's foremost experts on NCAA compliance issues.
"If they do, then they've opened themselves up to really being much more of a different governing body," he said.
The NCAA has been monitoring the Penn State case since November, when NCAA President Mark Emmert sent the school a letter addressing potential rules violations. But when all is said and done, Ridpath noted, "I don't anticipate anything happening" to the football program.
"I understand the groundswell of people wanting [PSU to be punished], but really, NCAA bylaws are more around competitive advantage and competitive equity issues," Ridpath said.
Rules of engagement
These specific rules were mentioned as points of interest in NCAA President Mark Emmert's letter to Penn State President Rodney Erickson in November.
Article 2.1: The principle of institutional control and responsibility -- This outlines that "it is the responsibility of each member institution to control its intercollegiate athletics program in compliance with the rules and regulations of the Association. The institution's president or chancellor is responsible for the administration of all aspects of the athletics program. ... The institution's responsibility for the conduct of its intercollegiate athletics program includes responsibility for the actions of its staff members and for the actions of any other individual or organization engaged in activities promoting the athletics interests of the institution."
Article 2.4: The principle of sportsmanship and ethical conduct -- This states that intercollegiate athletics should "promote the character development of participants, to enhance the integrity of higher education and to promote civility in society, student-athletes, coaches, and all others associated with these athletics programs and events should adhere to such fundamental values as respect, fairness, civility, honesty and responsibility."
Articles 6.01.1 and 6.4: General principle of institutional control (6.01.1); and Responsibility for actions of outside entities (6.4).
Bylaw 10.01.1: Ethical conduct, general principle of honesty and sportsmanship.
Bylaw 10.1: Unethical conduct -- "Unethical conduct by a prospective or enrolled student-athlete or a current or former institutional staff member, which includes any individual who performs work for the institution or the athletics department even if he or she does not receive compensation for such work, may include, but is not limited to" followed by a list of 10 possible situations. In Emmert's letter to PSU, it specifically mentions, with the words italicized, "is not limited to" just the 10 scenarios listed in the manual.
Bylaws 11.1.1 and 220.127.116.11: Conducts of athletics personnel with regards to honesty and sportsmanship (11.1.1); and Responsibility of head coach (18.104.22.168) -- The head coach bylaw states, "It shall be the responsibility of an institution's head coach to promote an atmosphere for compliance within the program supervised by the coach and to monitor the activities regarding compliance of all assistant coaches and other administrators involved with the program who report directly or indirectly to the coach."
Bylaw 19.01.2: General principles of exemplary conduct.
Source: NCAA 2011-12 Division I Manual
The NCAA Division I manual is 439 pages full of constitutional articles and bylaws, and while some of the rules and regulations are straightforward, others are more ambiguous and open to interpretation.
For Penn State's football program, interpretation is the key word. Sanctions could be levied on the Nittany Lions if the NCAA concludes school officials broke rules in the following areas:
The NCAA would be setting a precedent if it were to levy major sanctions against Penn State based only on those issues.
"It's really hard to know what an allegation in this particular case would look like," said Mark Jones, a collegiate sports attorney for Ice Miller LLP in Indianapolis who worked with the NCAA for 18 years and was managing director of enforcement when he left in 2004.
"For unethical conduct, traditionally that's a finding that's made that impacts an individual. It's not as much an institutional violation. ... By and large, institutional control has been finding when an institution has had some underlying problem that has been an NCAA rules violation in the operating bylaws that impact competitive equity on some level."
The NCAA did not respond to a message from the Mirror concerning its investigation into the Penn State case. Also, a Penn State spokesman wrote in an email to the Mirror that "the university has no comment on any investigations at this time."
Some national pundits have suggested the "death penalty" for the Penn State football program, meaning it would be shut down entirely for one year. Jones doesn't believe that is "in any way a likelihood," but he added that theoretically the NCAA does have the power to levy that dreaded penalty.
"It's a sanction that's available to the committee on infractions if they make a major finding," Jones said. "You don't have to be a repeat violator for that sanction to happen. But I have no sense whatsoever that that would be imposed."
Ridpath said the NCAA "can barely take care of the rules they have now" and added it would be a mistake for the governing body to try and extend its reach to cases involving criminal matters.
"There are criminal activities going on on college campuses every day - and certainly athletics - that we can blame theoretically on the coaches or on the athletic director or whomever," Ridpath said. "I just think we're going down the wrong path [to start levying sanctions in those issues]."
There is an additional area of concern, Ridpath said, aside from the Sandusky scandal that potentially could lead to NCAA sanctions for Penn State. Right now the case is considered a criminal matter, but things could be viewed differently if the Louis Freeh report or other investigations turn up infractions that have never been reported.
For instance, if evidence is uncovered that Paterno made or influenced decisions in order to benefit the football program in a specific way, then Ridpath said the NCAA could get involved.
One area the Freeh investigators have been digging into, according to various media outlets, has been whether Paterno used his influence to interfere with Penn State's internal disciplinary process when it came to football players.
"If there's something that I believe that maybe the NCAA can look at, it would be the issue of Joe Paterno trying to minimize punishment for players," Ridpath said. "That could potentially be an extra benefit issue."
Mirror Staff Writer Cory Giger is at 949-7031.