A member of the team that produced a 267-page report condemning the response of Pennsylvania State University’s leaders to a serial child molester believes that the NCAA’s use of that document was insufficient to justify the punishment it handed the university this week.
“That document was not meant to be used as the sole piece, or the large piece, of the NCAA’s decision-making,” a source familiar with the investigation told The Chronicle on Thursday. “It was meant to be a mechanism to help Penn State move forward. To be used otherwise creates an obstacle to the institution changing.”
A better way of putting that would be to say that in the future, schools will see Penn State as a cautionary tale about the risk entailed in authorizing an investigation like this to start with, or, if after authorizing one, accepting its conclusions. It’s hard to see how that helps strengthen Emmert’s stated goal of changing the culture in big time college athletics.
Especially when the goals of the school and the NCAA may not be entirely aligned. And I don’t mean that in anything other than a neutral sense.
“The Freeh team reviewed how Penn State operated, not how they worked within the NCAA’s system,” this person said. “The NCAA’s job is to investigate whether Penn State broke its rules and whether it gained a competitive advantage in doing so.”
Now I don’t have any sympathy for the institutional stature concern the source raises – if you don’t want that problem, don’t enable a serial child molester – but this argument about the obvious structural inadequacies of the process behind the report as the basis for NCAA action certainly resonates:
Mr. Spanier was the only one among them to be interviewed by the Freeh investigators, and that was just days before the report was released. (Mr. Curley and Mr. Schultz, facing charges of perjury and failing to report child abuse, did not answer questions for the report.)
Because of those and other limitations, some of the Freeh team’s findings were circumstantial. “The report is critical, but nothing is black and white,” The Chronicle‘s source said. “No investigation can totally answer all the questions everyone has.”
The Freeh report also could have explored more about the various coaches who knew about Mr. Sandusky’s showering with boys—an area in which the NCAA obviously should have followed up, said the person close to the Freeh investigation.
“The NCAA took this report and ran with it without further exploration,” this person said. “If you really wanted to show there was a nexus to cover up, interview the coaches. See their knowledge and culpability and how far this went.” [Emphasis added.]
That’s not an issue the people who hired Freeh were concerned with, as they were looking top down at how Sandusky was able to operate with apparent impunity for more than a decade on the Penn State campus. And that’s why Freeh’s report goes no higher than Spanier in assigning blame for that. But, again, from the NCAA’s perspective, if this is supposed to be about rooting out a diseased football-first culture, then the investigation didn’t go nearly far enough. Emmert failed to follow through on his mission.
In short, by his own standards, Emmert did a half-assed job, regardless of the sincerity of his intentions. And because of that, it won’t surprise me at all if over the next couple of years some of the sanctions begin to be walked back. And that’s going to look bad for all parties concerned with message sending.