A panel with ties to the NCAA, including two men who once led the association, left a pro-Penn State audience with little comfort on Wednesday night about how the governing body of college athletics handled the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse case.
From the moment the NCAA sent its letter of inquiry to Penn State in November, former NCAA President Cedric Dempsey said, it put pressure on itself to take action against the university. Media scrutiny amid a growing outrage over the findings in the Freeh Report set in motion plans to sanction the football program without a formal NCAA investigation and despite the report's limitations with subpoena power and reliance on circumstantial evidence.
It was the unprecedented course of action combined with the severity of the sanctions that created a swirling firestorm of criticism directed toward the NCAA by the Penn State faithful. Wednesday night, those in attendance, including recently elected Board of Trustee member Anthony Lubrano and backup quarterback Shane McGregor, were left with the realization that a rush to judgment most certainly occurred in advance of key trials in the scandal set to start in January and, perhaps more disheartening, that any recourse is probably a lost cause.
"You all have been caught in one of the darndest things I have ever heard of and witnessed," said Gene Corrigan, a former president of the NCAA, commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference and athletic director at Notre Dame. "And I wish you well to get out of it."
Penn State, of course, was sacked with a $60 million fine, loss of 40 scholarships over the next four seasons and a four-year postseason ban, among other disciplinary and corrective measures.
Wednesday night's panel included: Dempsey and Corrigan, the two former leaders of the NCAA, Amy Perko, a spokeswoman for the Knight Commission, Scott Kretchmar, the former faculty athletics rep to the NCAA for Penn State, and Tom O'Toole, the college sports editor for USA Today. A video of Kretchmar's prepared marks during the forum are embedded in the video above.
NCAA President Mark Emmert declined an invitation to attend Wednesday night's panel on the future of the NCAA.
Other notable comments from the panelists:
Dempsey predicted there would be a growing separation between the 'have's' and the 'have-not's,' which could entail a separate division for BCS conference schools or even a more radical landscape where those power conference schools break free from the NCAA entirely.
In fact, the panel suggested that if not for the revenue made via the NCAA basketball tournament, it's possible those power conference schools may have already done so.
One State College resident in the audience asked if a letter-writing campaign could convince Emmert to reduce the sanctions. Dempsey replied, "I doubt it."
Lubrano took the mic first to ask the panel a question, asking about possible recourse at this stage of the game, but also gave his spiel that the culture problem at Penn State lies with the Board of Trustees.
Both Corrigan and Dempsey were asked how they would've handled the Sandusky scandal and said taking an aggressive measure to seek all information about the events would be top priority as well as never agreeing to the consent decree.
Dempsey does not lay blame at the feet of the university's Board of Trustees, saying it acted strongly.
The panel also noted how the role of the athletic director has evolved over time. Now, it's all about the bottom line.
Said Corrigan: "We have met the enemy, and he is us."