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Penn State's NCAA Sanctions: 365 Days Later

by on July 23, 2013 11:08 AM

Students huddled in front of the big television in the HUB, a small sampling of the Penn State faithful waiting, across the country, to find out what the Penn State football program's fate would be. 

On July 23, 2012, NCAA President Mark Emmert announced what he called "unprecedented sanctions" against Penn State in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. When Penn State President Rodney Erickson signed the consent decree with the NCAA and the Big Ten, Penn State was walloped with a $60 million fine, a four-year football postseason ban, a significant reduction in football scholarships and all wins vacated between 1998-2011 under former football coach Joe Paterno.

There was an outcry. Tears were shed, statements released and the Paterno statue that once stood outside Beaver Stadium was taken down and put into storage. But Penn State had to forge ahead. Bill O'Brien, only six months into his head coaching position at the university, led his team to an 8-4 season, despite players transferring and coaches from other teams trying to recruit players in the parking lot as they left practice. 

Former FBI Director Louis Freeh was hired to conduct an internal investigation to determine whether there had been any wrongdoing by university administrators. In July 2012, just 11 days before the sanctions were imposed, Freeh released his findings in a scathing 263-page report.

After saying former top university administrators essentially turned a blind eye to Sandusky's abuse, Freeh made 119 recommendations for Penn State to carry out. 

Penn State hired Sen. George Mitchell to oversee university efforts to comply with Freeh's recommendations.

Mitchell will release his fourth quarterly report in August.

His last report was released in May and so far, the former senator has complimented Penn State's progress and its compliance with the Freeh recommendations. 

POLL: One Year Later, What Do You Think Penn State Should Do About the Sanctions?

Should Penn State ask the NCAA to reduce its sanctions?

Yes, the university has made an effort over the past year and deserves a full reversal of its penalties
No, they should wait it out. There are only three years left.
I don't know
Yes, but only if they commit to still donating $60 million to victims of abuse

"There still is more to be done, but we are pleased that our efforts are being praised by Sen. George Mitchell and by other external entities that have an interest in our progress," says Penn State President Rodney Erickson.

Penn State made two hires that filled new roles at the university: Gabriel Gates, who serves as Clery Compliance coordinator and Julie Del Giorno, who is the new Athletics Integrity Officer. Gates and Del Giorno were introduced to the Penn State Board of Trustees in March, when they each officially began their roles. 

Recently, Penn State received an initial report from Clery Act investigators with the U.S. Department of Education, but did not release any information because of privacy restrictions. The Clery Act requires universities to release on-campus crime statistics to the public.

The road ahead may be long, but Penn State has time and again acknowledged its commitment to becoming a nationwide leader in the awareness and prevention of sexual abuse. 

"Penn State has worked diligently on significant reforms that have been implemented over the past year, and reflects Penn State's steadfast and ongoing commitment to integrity and ethical conduct. Our board of trustees has restructured its governance to be more open and efficient, and we are working to set the bar for our operations in human resources, security, athletics and compliance," Erickson says. 

As a whole, the board has not decided yet to approach the NCAA with a request to lessen or reverse the sanctions, but says it may, when the time is right. In July, the board voted to approve settlements to Sandusky's victims, at a reported $60 million total. 

After the board meetimg in July, chairman Keith Masser said the board "has more work to do" before it brings anything to the NCAA. That includes waiting for Mitchell's final quarterly report and making sure the last two of the 119 Freeh recommendations are successfully implemented. 

Some board members are already part of a lawsuit, however. In February, the Paterno family, along with 20 other plaintiffs including former football players and coaches, Penn State faculty, students and trustees sued the NCAA. They want a judge to void the consent decree, which would break Penn State's commitment to its penalties.

For now, the university is still abiding by the consent decree.

Laura Nichols is a news reporter and @LC_Nichols on Twitter.
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