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Canaries in the Goal Mines: A Timely Analysis of College Athletics and the Role of Student-Athlete
Journal of Intercollegiate Sport (2014)
  • C. Keith Harrison, Ed.D., University of Central Florida
  • Scott Bukstein, JD, University of Central Florida
In July 2012, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) imposed severe sanctions on The Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) athletics program related to allegations of sexual abuse occurring in Penn State athletics facilities. Sanctions included a $60 million !ne, a four-year postseason ban for the Penn State football team, a signi!cant reduction in athletics scholarships, and a five year probationary period (Consent Decree, 2012). These punitive actions were designed in part to “change the culture that allowed this activity to occur and realign it in a sustainable fashion with the expected norms and values of intercollegiate athletics” (Consent Decree, 2012, p. 4). The NCAA concluded that the situation at Penn State demonstrated “an unprecedented failure of institutional
integrity leading to a culture in which a football program was held in higher esteem than the values of the institution, the values of the NCAA, the values of higher education, and most disturbingly the values of human decency” Consent Decree, 2012, p. 4).
Reactions to the penalties were mixed among those associated with the university. Rodney Erickson, then President at Penn State, stated that the university accepted the NCAA penalties and corrective actions. Erickson explained that Penn State:
must create a culture in which people are not afraid to speak up, management is not compartmentalized, [and] all are expected to demonstrate the highest ethical standards… [w]e continue to recognize the important role that intercollegiate athletics provides for our student athletes and the wider University community as we strive to appropriately balance academic and athletic accomplishments (Erickson Statement, 2012).
However, some Penn State stakeholders did not support the NCAA sanctions against the university. For example, shortly after the NCAA announced the sanctions, members of the Penn State Board of Trustees as well as the Governor of Pennsylvania challenged the validity and enforceability of the Consent Decree and corresponding sanctions (Notice of Appeal, 2012; Corbett v. NCAA, 2013).
At the time of publication of this essay, litigation is ongoing with respect to how and where the $60 million in !ne money will be used. In addition, in September 2014 the NCAA Executive Committee eliminated Penn State’s postseason ban and returned all athletics scholarships due to Penn State’s “signi!cant progress toward ensuring its athletics department functions with integrity” (Hosick, 2014a; Mitchell Report, 2014). Then, in November 2014 the NCAA was required to release a series of internal e-mails between NCAA leaders during the discovery (i.e., information gathering) phase of the above-mentioned lawsuit related to the $60 million !ne (Corman v. NCAA, 2014). Several of these e-mails indicate that senior NCAA of!cials questioned the NCAA’s jurisdiction (i.e., authority) to impose the sanctions against Penn State. For example, former NCAA Vice President of Enforcement Julie Roe Lach characterized the overall NCAA approach as a “bluff” to pressure Penn State to accept the sanctions. Roe Lach acknowledged the NCAA “could try to assert jurisdiction on this issue and may be successful but it’d be a stretch” (personal communication, July 14, 2012). Roe Lach’s e-mail was in response to questions posed by her colleague Kevin Lennon, NCAA Vice President of Academic and Membership Affairs. Lennon wrote “I know we are banking on the fact [that the] school is so embarrassed they will do anything, but I am not sure about that . . . This will force the jurisdictional issue [and] we really don’t have a great answer to that one” (personal communication, July 14, 2012).
The NCAA responded to the release of the e-mails with the following justification and rationale:
Debate and thorough consideration is central in any organization, and that clearly is reflected in the selectively released emails. The national office staff routinely provides information and counsel to the membership on tough issues. The NCAA carefully examined its authority and responsibility to act (NCAA Press Release, 2014).
Penn State also issued a statement regarding the NCAA e-mails, in which current Penn State President Eric Barron and Chairman of the Board of Trustees Keith Masser stated:
We find it deeply disturbing that NCAA officials in leadership positions would consider bluffing one of their member institutions, Penn State, to accept sanctions outside of their normal investigative and enforcement process. We are considering our options. It is important to understand, however, that Penn State is in the midst of a number of legal and civil cases associated with these matters (Penn State Press Release, 2014).
Publication Date
December, 2014
Citation Information
C. Keith Harrison and Scott Bukstein. "Canaries in the Goal Mines: A Timely Analysis of College Athletics and the Role of Student-Athlete" Journal of Intercollegiate Sport Vol. 7 Iss. 2 (2014) p. 109 - 119
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