STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- The exact details are unknown, but the punishment is certain. The NCAA has promised to act against Penn State and is to reveal at 9 a.m. today its "corrective and punitive measures" for a case unlike any the organization has chosen to deal with in its long history.
The decision will end the debate that has picked up in recent weeks about if and how the NCAA would act on a case involving criminal and moral violations rather than an obvious breach of NCAA rules. The case's lack of NCAA investigative protocol has stirred up reports as to whether NCAA President Mark Emmert has invoked a special privilege of authority or if Penn State is acting jointly with the NCAA in deciding its punishment, in a way that would preclude it from appealing the decision or filing a lawsuit.
"There is a possibility that if Penn State has not consented to, it has at least acquiesced to this swift judgment," said Michael McCann, who is the director of the Vermont Law School Sports Law Institute and has followed the Jerry Sandusky case.
A Penn State University spokesman declined to comment for the article, and acting athletic director Dave Joyner did not return calls to his cell phone. The NCAA's statement revealed no further details about the process or the sanctions.
NCAA investigations and sanctions normally follow a procedure explained in the organization's manual. First, the NCAA notifies an institution of an inquiry. An investigation follows, then the school is informed upon completion and given an opportunity to appear before the committee on infractions, and finally the committee explains its findings and punishment. The final two steps usually take several months.
Two weeks ago, upon release of the Freeh report, Mr. Emmert said the NCAA was still waiting for Penn State's response to its original inquiry, sent last November. On Tuesday, Penn State President Rodney Erickson said he would respond within two weeks. The process was clearly fast-tracked.
Yahoo Sports reported on Sunday, citing two sources, that Mr. Emmert has been able to skip the normal enforcement procedure as part of a provision allowed in the NCAA constitution by getting permission from the NCAA's board of directors. The board of directors is formed of 18 university presidents and chancellors.
Coincidentally, former Penn State President Graham Spanier endorsed the need for swift decisions by the board of directors, like the type it has reportedly taken, at a summit of NCAA presidents last August.
"The board needs to be prepared to take stronger actions directly," he said.
Though the NCAA did not specify its actions, ESPN reported penalties would likely include a significant loss of scholarships and bowl games and would be considered harsher than a "death penalty." ESPN reported that Penn State would not get the "death penalty," a suspension of the football program for a year.
Last Monday on PBS, Mr. Emmert expressed the possibility of a "death penalty" for Penn State. He called the situation the most egregious he had seen in college sports.
In the letter he addressed to Penn State last November, Mr. Emmert wrote that his organization wanted to review Penn State for a lack of institutional control and unethical conduct. Unethical conduct has generally pertained to administrators, athletes, or coaches who fail to comply with or intentionally mislead the NCAA during an investigation. Institutional control deals with the overall governance of an athletics program but has historically punished administrations that failed to notice or covered up NCAA violations.
The NCAA has never imposed sanctions for those penalties for crimes committed by athletes, coaches, or administrators. It has been presented with many opportunities to act, though. A Virginia men's lacrosse player was convicted this year of murdering a women's lacrosse player in 2010. In 2006, Montana State experienced multiple criminal issues involving current and former athletes and coaches.
"There have been many instances where there is some pretty untoward human behavior that the NCAA does not pursue even if it had a great negative effect on a student athlete," said Gene Marsh, a former infractions committee chair and a lawyer for Lightfoot, Franklin & White.
Others with knowledge of NCAA policy and sports law see the connection. Mr. McCann believes that the behavior detailed in the Freeh report of administrators and coaches covering up Sandusky's crimes for the benefit of the football program could fit the parameters of unethical conduct or lack of institutional control. In Mr. Emmert's November letter, he wrote that the concepts of unethical conduct and institutional control can be selectively interpreted.
"What's the point of having that language," said Mr. McCann, "if it's not going to be used here."
Southern Methodist University is the only football program to receive the "death penalty," and it did in 1987. The most significant recent punishments of football programs involve the University of Southern California and the University of North Carolina.
In 2010, the NCAA banned USC from bowl games for two years and took away 30 scholarships over a three-year period for exhibiting a lack of institutional control among other violations. North Carolina was deemed to have failed to monitor its football program regarding dealings with agents this year and given a one-year bowl ban and a loss of 15 scholarships over three years.
Publicly at least, several Penn State football players expressed a desire to stay regardless of the penalties. Senior tight end Garry Gilliam tweeted, "No matter what happens I'm staying at Penn State." Senior quarterback Matt McGloin tweeted, "The hotter the fire, the stronger the steel."
Outside Beaver Stadium, someone attached a sign to the black metal fence protecting Gate A. It read: "Penn State vs. The World. We Love You Football Players!"
The date of Sept. 1, 2012, was printed on top, referring to the start of the football season. Soon everyone will discover just how different this season will be.
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Mark Dent is a reporter for the Post-Gazette. Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.