Mike Jensen: College administrators question how Penn State penalties were meted out

NCAA president Mark Emmert was quick in leveling penalties against Penn State.
NCAA president Mark Emmert was quick in leveling penalties against Penn State. (MICHAEL CONROY / Associated Press)
Posted: September 22, 2012

Two months later, the NCAA's sanctions against Penn State don't rankle merely Penn Staters.

Many of the people charged with applying NCAA rules remain upset, or at the least quizzical, about the process used to penalize Penn State in the Jerry Sandusky child-sex abuse scandal.

These administrators and NCAA insiders aren't defending the actions of Penn State higher-ups. They are, however, still questioning why normal procedures were bypassed by NCAA president Mark Emmert with the approval of the executive committee.

They question not just the process but the speed of the process, wondering why it was apparently so important to put sanctions in place before the current football season.

"So does the whole governing structure come into question?" said St. Joseph's athletic director Don DiJulia, a former conference commissioner. "Maybe it should be changed, but we need to revisit the practice of the governance process if this vehicle is going to be used again.''

Several people directly involved in the infractions process in recent years have been upset about how a very small group of NCAA officials determined the penalties against Penn State. Wasn't this kind of paternalistic approach what got Penn State in trouble?

An athletic director hit on the same theme, although he didn't want to do it with his name publicly attached to it.

"We saw what happened when the Penn State board was excluded from a process," the AD said, "and [there was] no check on decision-making in a serious matter."

Questions still are being asked about where the NCAA gets the power - that's the word one attorney used - to penalize the sports program. The answer in this case, this same man said, apparently is that Penn State agreed to the penalties. But he still thought there was an inconsistency, bringing up that no action was taken against the sports program after a murder was committed by a University of Virginia lacrosse player.

There are indications that Emmert, who has declined several interview requests from The Inquirer, isn't interested in slowing down what he apparently sees as a reform movement. Gene Marsh, the former infractions committee chairman who advised Penn State this year in its NCAA dealings, gave a talk at Penn State last weekend, covered by the Penn Stater magazine.

According to the magazine, Marsh said some tougher rules are coming, with an announcement of proposals coming as soon as next month. "Postseason bans will become far more common than they are now," Marsh said.

Not everyone is convinced Emmert was completely out of bounds in seeing a need to assert his authority. Drexel athletic director Eric Zillmer brought up the question of institutional control, and he focused on the issue of self-reporting.

"NCAA governance of membership schools is founded on the principle of institutional control, which means that there are redundant institutional processes in place as well as a sequence of accountability among professional staff that allows for a university to govern itself as it relates to intercollegiate athletics," Zillmer said.

He added, "In enforcing NCAA bylaws all membership schools depend on the principal of self-reporting violations or even inquiring with the NCAA if a violation may have occurred. Contrary to popular opinion in a great majority of cases the NCAA actually does not police membership schools. Rather NCAA membership schools monitor themselves."

Emmert's muscular stance goes beyond Penn State. One athletic director brought up Emmert's attempt last year to put through a legislative reform agenda. "The membership pushed back big-time and slowed things down."

The athletic director who talked about last year's push-back said that in the case of Penn State, he believed financial interests involved in continuing to play games were given greater sway than the interests of student-athletes. But his other primary concern was the authority used by the NCAA president.

"I think a lot of people were taken aback," this athletic director said. "I think people are going to be more alert to the processes. If you needed to bypass the normal process, fine, but can you take a little more time?"

In his talk, Marsh added that the Penn State case will, in fact, be something of a "blueprint" for the NCAA. He added to the audience of Penn Staters, "I don't know if that makes you feel better, or worse."

Contact Mike Jensen at 215-854-4489 or mjensen@phillynews.com, or on Twitter @Jensenoffcampus. Read his "Off Campus'' columns at www.philly.com/offcampus.


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