NCAA’s Arrogance, Incompetence Exposed

OPINON: The bully gets bullied into invalidating the consent decree that resulted in unprecedented sanctions against Penn State.

As attempts at saving face go, the NCAA's try with respect to being strong-armed into invalidating the consent decree it used to sanction Penn State in 2012 is about as lame as they come.

The following sentence was included in the agreement between the NCAA, the university and Pennsylvania state officials that repealed the consent decree (and, by extension, all sanctions).

“Penn State acknowledges the NCAA's legitimate and good faith interest and concern regarding the Jerry Sandusky matter.”

That was the best the NCAA could muster to explain away its arrogant yet incompetent handling of the Sandusky tragedy, faults that became extremely clear as we began to get behind-the-scenes looks at the process the last couple of months.

Those looks came thanks to a lawsuit filed by Pennsylvania State Sen. Jake Corman and Treasurer Rob McCord that initially had a simple goal: to keep the $60 million fine the NCAA levied against PSU in state, where it would help victims of child abuse. The NCAA foolishly contested the suit, insisting it could use the funds where it wanted.

Did we mention the organization was arrogant?

Long story short, as that was being sorted out, the Pennsylvania judge hearing the case expanded its scope to include not only where the money could be spent, but also the validity of the consent decree. And that meant Corman's side could demand discovery of key documents that led to the decree, and also depose NCAA officials involved in the process.

Keep in mind, had the NCAA just agreed to let the $60 million be used to help very good causes in Pennsylvania, it never would have opened itself up to such scrutiny (at least not via the Corman suit).

Did we mention the organization was incompetent?

Documents from the case (and a similar suit filed by the estate of late Penn State coach Joe Paterno) began to surface early last November, and it got ugly fast.

First came internal e-mails from mid-July of 2012, before the sanctions were handed down. They plainly indicated the NCAA was considering the “bluff” of the so-called death penalty against the Penn State football program to force the university to accept harsh sanctions. The NCAA responded by saying the e-mails reflected an internal “debate and thorough consideration” any organization might use, and that selected e-mails were presented to make the situation look worse than it was.

The irony of that was that in punishing Penn State, the NCAA relied not on its own investigation, but rather the findings of the university-sponsored Freeh Report. The Freeh Report suggested university leaders (including Paterno) knew about Sandusky's crimes but failed to act to stop him. The primary evidence of this?

Internal e-mails that were infinitely more vague than the very specific e-mails NCAA officials were sending to one another when talking about bluffing Penn State (and wondering whether the organization had any authority to punish PSU over a matter).

So, from the NCAA's perspective, it was perfectly OK to extrapolate facts and draw conclusions from Penn State's in-house e-mails way back when (chains in which Paterno did not take part, nor was he ever mentioned by name). But when the NCAA's own e-mails were released, well, it deserved the benefit of the doubt.

Ed Ray

Speaking of doubt, if there was any that the NCAA was going to have to cave on all of this, it was erased Thursday. In the morning, a filing in the Paterno case included transcripts of recent depositions of the NCAA's two most powerful figures when the Penn State sanctions were handed down: Ed Ray, the now former chairman of the executive committee; and Mark Emmert, who was (and still is, but we're not sure for how long) NCAA president.

Ray's testimony, offered Dec. 8, indicated what can only be considered as a callous disregard for learning the actual facts in such an important case:

o He admitted to never reading the Freeh Report before the consent decree was finalized, because he was on vacation in Hawaii. Yet, having never read the report, he voted for Penn State football to receive the death penalty.

o He did not read the consent decree before it was signed.

o The night before the sanctions were announced, he told former PSU president Graham Spanier that no former university officials would be criticized by name. Of course, Spanier, Paterno, former athletic director Tim Curley and former vice president Gary Shultz were all blasted by Emmert.

o He admitted to not writing the statement he read when the sanctions were announced, which included the fact that the Freeh Report (which he did not read) was a primary basis for the sanctions.

o He admitted that on conference calls leading up to the sanctions being handed down, there were times he was not sure who was talking, because people did not have to identify themselves.

o He admitted to learning much of what he knew about the Freeh Report through things he read in the media.

o He said the threat of the death penalty was never used against Penn State, and, in fact, only two members of the executive committee thought it was a viable option and it was easily voted down. He said the only two options on the table were PSU accepting the consent decree or opening itself up to an extended NCAA investigation.

And that was important because…

When Emmert was deposed Dec. 12, he told a very different story.

He said, “The consensus on the board, strong consensus on the phone call was that this was something where … I don't typically use terms like 'out for blood,' but … there certainly was a very strong sentiment to … to … impose the death penalty and for multiple years.”

That, ladies and gentlemen, is when the demise of the consent decree was cemented. And that could well be where the NCAA itself was invalidated.

Because either Ray or Emmert was lying.

Mark Emmert

Which one? Well, as disengaged as he was while everything was going down, Ray really did not seem to be twisting the truth in his testimony, even admitting to some things that did not reflect well on him.

Emmert, however, had reason to concoct a story. When explaining why Penn State agreed to the harsh sanctions included with the consent decree, then-president Rodney Erickson said he was under the impression there was “a strong consensus on the executive committee that the alternative to the consent decree was far worse and that we should take the deal.”

Emmert used the exact words “strong consensus” when testifying on the matter. Draw your own conclusion on his testimony from that.

Ultimately, the same type of bully tactics the NCAA used to cram the consent decree down the throats of Penn State's spineless former leadership were used to force the organization to tuck its tail between its legs and admit (through actions, if not words) that the decree was not legal.

The differences?

This time the bully was neither arrogant nor incompetent, but rather patient, calculated and -- when it had to be -- cold-blooded.

This time, the bully really did operate in good faith. Though the consent decree has been wiped out, the $60 million from Penn State to help victims of child abuse and prevent child abuse is still very much in play.

Now considered a donation as opposed to a fine, it will go to great causes throughout Pennsylvania.

And it speaks to the fact that if you go into something with honest intentions, as Corman and McCord did here, you never really know what all might come out of it.

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