By Mary Cunningham
The NCAA must feel that this action is better late than never.
But yesterday, when it announced a settlement to restore to Penn State the 112 wins that it wiped out as punishment for the Jerry Sandusky child-molestation scandal, there were still many questions left unanswered.
Two of them are:
Why in the world did the supposed overseer of all things in college sports feel the need to overstep its bounds in such an egregious and unnecessary manner.
And why did it have no compunction about smearing the good name of one of the greatest figures in all of college athletics, former Nitty Lions legendary coach Joe Paterno.
All but one of those wins took place under Paterno, and their restoration would return the late coach to his perch as the winningest coach in major-college-football history. Counting those wins, Paterno’s record over 46 years as a coach would stand at 409-136-3.
The restoration is part of a settlement of a lawsuit that two high-ranking state officials brought against the NCAA and the school. The lawsuit had challenged the legality of a consent decree agreed upon in 2012 by the school and NCAA that represented punishment for the school’s handling of sexual-assault allegations against Mr. Sandusky. The former assistant football coach was convicted in 2012 of sexually abusing 10 boys over 15 years, including some while on campus, and is serving a minimum 30-year prison sentence.
The 2012 consent decree vacated 112 wins, imposed a four-year bowl ban on the school, reduced football scholarships and required the university to pay $60 million to fight child abuse. The lone win not attributable to Paterno was credited to Tom Bradley, who was interim head coach for part of 2011.
In the wake of that decree, state Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman and state Treasurer Rob McCord filed suit against the NCAA and Penn State, seeking to ensure that the $60 million fine was spent in the state. The NCAA agreed to keep the money in Pennsylvania, and the plaintiffs shifted their challenge to whether the consent decree itself was ever legal. The case was set for a February trial.
The settlement of that suit reinforces that the $60 million to fight child abuse will be spent in Pennsylvania. Last year, the NCAA ended the ban on postseason play and restored the school’s full complement of football scholarships.
The deal was approved by the NCAA’s board. The Penn State board, which also needed to approve the deal, voted unanimously in favor of it Friday, a board member said.
The NCAA announced the deal as Penn State trustees took up the matter as part of their monthly board meeting. A contingent of alumni-elected trustees on the board had said it would oppose any settlement that fell short of an all-out repeal of the decree that levied the penalties on Penn State. The trustees, who are a minority of the board, wanted the NCAA to admit that it never should have imposed the penalties. In the end, they voted for the deal because they said the NCAA’s agreement went far enough.
“When you void the consent decree, you are saying, ‘We shouldn’t have done it,” said trustee Al Lord, a vocal opponent of the consent decree. “I wasn’t 1,000% sure I was going to vote for it but I did. I’ll just be glad to not talk about the NCAA anymore in board meetings.”
The NCAA said the settlement isn’t an admission that it acted improperly. One of the provisions, according to the NCAA, is that “Penn State acknowledges the NCAA’s legitimate and good-faith interest and concern regarding the Jerry Sandusky matter.”
Kirk Schulz, Kansas State University president and chairman of the NCAA Board of Governors, said in a statement that the deal “reaffirms our authority to act.” He also said “The NCAA has a legitimate role when a member’s actions threaten the integrity of college sports. We acted in good faith in addressing the failures and subsequent improvements on Penn State’s campus.”
Paterno’s family, in a statement released minutes after the announcement, said the pending deal is a “great victory” and that the “repeal of the consent decree and the return of the wins to the university and Joe Paterno confirm that the NCAA and the Board of Trustees acted prematurely and irresponsibly in the unprecedented sanctions the NCAA imposed on the university, the players, coaches and the community.”
Still unresolved is a lawsuit filed by the Paterno family against the NCAA calling for the consent decree to be voided and alleging the NCAA unfairly harmed Paterno in its handling of the situation.
The NCAA said Friday that it would “aggressively defend the Paterno estate’s challenge to the validity of the now-replaced consent decree.”