NCAA says it will examine how Penn State has handled scandal

Joe Paterno lost his job as Penn State's head coach after it was learned that he failed to inform police of reports of child sex abuse.

Story highlights

  • Penn State says it will cooperate with the NCAA examination
  • Penn State President Rodney Erickson has pledged to stay on as long as needed
  • Former coach Joe Paterno has developed a treatable form of lung cancer, his son says
  • Paterno is the winningest Division I coach in college football history

The NCAA says it will examine Penn State's "institutional control" of its athletics department and how it has handled the child sex abuse scandal that has tainted top university officials.

"The recount of these tragic events in the grand jury report is deeply troubling," the group's president, Mark Emmert, said in a letter to the university. "If true, individuals who were in a position to monitor and act upon learning of potential abuses appear to have been acting starkly contrary to the values of higher education, as well as the NCAA."

"While the criminal justice process clearly takes precedence over any NCAA actions, the association is closely monitoring the situation," the NCAA said.

Former President Graham Spanier and longtime football coach Joe Paterno were removed from their posts earlier this month by the school's board of trustees.

Paterno, the winningest Division I college football coach in history, lost his job after it came to light that he failed to inform police in 2002 of reports of child sex abuse that allegedly involved Jerry Sandusky, his former defensive coordinator. Paterno was required only to advise his superiors, which he did, but was criticized for not following up after no action was taken by the school.

Former Athletic Director Tim Curley and Senior Vice President Gary Schultz stepped down after being charged with lying to a grand jury about the alleged 2002 incident and failing to report the allegations of abuse to police.

The scandal has shaken the university and raised questions about collegiate accountability in alleged criminal matters.

    "The average person would say 'call the cops', but it didn't happen here," Michael L. Buckner, a Florida-based attorney who represents universities and coaches in the NCAA enforcement process, told CNN Friday. "Schools have concentrated so much on NCAA compliance, but I don't think very many schools have processes to handle criminal violations."

    In the letter dated Thursday, the NCAA asked Penn State to provide information to several questions by December 16, including:

    -- How has Penn State exercised "institutional control" over issues identified and related to the grand jury report on the sex abuse allegations?

    -- What policies and procedures does the university have in place to "monitor, prevent and detect the issues identified in and related to the ... report or to take disciplinary or corrective action if such behaviors are found?"

    -- Has "each of the alleged persons to have been involved or have notice of the issues identified in and related to the grand jury report behaved consistent with principles and requirements governing ethical conduct and honesty?"

    Emmert's letter did not indicate a formal investigation had been launched, but he said there could be "future action" as the NCAA looks at the actions, or possible inaction, of the university and relevant employees.

    He said an NCAA bylaw says coaches and others in college athletics must "do more than avoid improper conduct or questionable acts. Their own moral values must be so certain and positive that those younger and more pliable will be influenced by a fine example."

    The NCAA did not immediately return a message left Friday evening by CNN.

    Normally, the NCAA's examination of "institutional control" includes rules violations, athlete eligibility, booster gifts, amateur status and other matters, Buckner said. In the Penn State case, the review will include an examination of potential criminal behavior, the attorney said.

    If found not to have "institutional control," Penn State's football program could be penalized for a number of years, including a ban on playing in postseason bowls, Buckner said.

    "Any impact on the football program will hurt Penn State financially," he said.

    The university's athletics department said it would cooperate with the NCAA, with the aim of preventing "anything similar from happening in the future."

    "We understand and believe in the importance of following both the letter and spirit of the NCAA rules and guidelines, and will continue to reiterate that to our coaches, student-athletes and athletic administrators," the department said in a statement.

    The NCAA examination may have implications for other universities, Buckner said. Presidents, athletic directors and general counsel likely will look closely at their own programs and procedures. "Are there any allegations lurking that no one has reported?" Buckner cited as a possible scenario.

    Over the past two years, the number of "institutional control" cases has decreased, in part because of staff training and the hiring of more compliance officers, Buckner said.

    Prominent defense attorney Mark Geragos told CNN's Anderson Cooper on Friday night that he felt it was unfeasible for at least four simultaneous investigations to all be top priority for Penn State and witnesses in the case, saying, "At some point, somebody is going to have to big foot it -- this is our investigation."

    And compared with the attorney general, state and U.S. Education Department probes, the NCAA's investigation is least likely to take precedence, Geragos opined.

    "What is the NCAA going to do at this point?" he said. "I don't understand what the NCAA thinks they're doing. It's utterly ridiculous."

    Sandusky, 67, who served 23 years as defensive coordinator for the Nittany Lions, is accused of 40 counts of sexually abusing boys over a period of more than 10 years, according to a grand jury's summary of testimony.

    Sandusky, who maintains his innocence, allegedly engaged in fondling, oral sex and anal sex with eight boys.

    Early Friday, police said the home of the former coach was again vandalized when a front window of the house was broken.

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    Meanwhile, the new acting head of Penn State's athletics department was officially introduced Friday after his predecessor and other university officials stepped down.

    "My mission here has begun," said David Joyner, who pledged to "align our core values in intercollegiate athletics with that of the academic units."

    Joyner, a Penn State graduate who played football under Paterno, pledged to help change the embattled athletics department.

    Penn State President Rodney Erickson, who no longer has "interim" as part of his title, has promised to stay on as university president "for as long as needed," according to a school statement Friday.

    Also Friday, Paterno's son Scott announced that the 84-year-old former coach has developed a treatable form of lung cancer.

    "Last weekend my father was diagnosed with a treatable form of lung cancer during a follow-up visit for a bronchial illness," he said in a written statement. "He is currently undergoing treatment and his doctors are optimistic that he will make a full recovery. As everyone can appreciate, this is a deeply personal matter for my parents, and we simply ask that his privacy be respected as he proceeds with treatment."