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In Penn State Fallout, Other Sports At Risk

Jul 24, 2012
Originally published on July 25, 2012 10:30 am



There's a lot more to talk through here, and senior writer Don Van Natta, Jr. has been following the story. He's on the line. Good morning.

DON VAN NATTA, JR.: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: And welcome to the program. You've written that Penn State was not actually found to violate a specific NCAA rule. How did they justify the penalty, given that?

JR.: Well, there are extraordinary circumstances here. The speed in which the NCAA has decided is unprecedented. They usually look at the loss of institutional control as a factor or at specific rules that had been violated. But in these circumstances, Mark Emmert and the leadership of the NCAA bypassed the enforcement mechanism and gave Emmert all the power. And as we've seen, we've seen these sanctions, we've never seen sanctions like this in history.

INSKEEP: And the university seemed almost relieved to have someone to punish them so they could do the time, pay the fine and try to move on.

JR.: That's another thing that's so extraordinary about this, Steve, and it surprised me, is the speed with which the university accepted these penalties. The consent decree was signed, I think, after only a few days of discussions between the NCAA and Penn State president Rod Erickson.

And the other thing that was really remarkable is how many trustees on the board of trustees were left in the dark. They were hopeful that the taking down of the Joe Paterno statue, for example, would send a positive message to the NCAA when it came to these sanctions. Meanwhile, these negotiations were ongoing and led to what we saw yesterday.

INSKEEP: Now, let me ask about whether these penalties can actually bring about wider changes. Of course, Mark Emmert, you mentioned him, the head of the NCAA, talked about cultural problems and changing the culture. Can these penalties actually change the culture at Penn State University?

JR.: Well, it remains to be seen. You know, there was a lot of criticism yesterday as you had in your piece. You know, a 3-9 season, several of them, can certainly change a football-first culture at a place very quickly. But I think that the audience for this was really all of the other universities across the country. I think that Mark Emmert and the NCAA really wanted to send a very loud message that this loss of institutional control that we saw in the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State will not be tolerated anywhere else.

So I think the hope is that it will change the culture, not just at Penn State, but at universities across the country.

INSKEEP: Well, you cover sports day in and day out. Not that there's an abuse scandal, this specific kind at every other college, but is there a wider cultural problem having to do with football?

JR.: Well, that's - if you listen very carefully to Mark Emmert's comments yesterday during that press conference, that's what he seemed to be saying. He mentioned hero worship had gone out of control in many places, and I think that that's what they are trying to reign in and send a message. This is a chance for the NCAA to really reassert its power and flex its muscle, and we've never seen sanctions like this in history.

INSKEEP: You know, I want to ask, Don Van Natta, about other people who may be hit by these sanctions. We heard in Joel Rose's report of local restaurateurs, shopkeepers who are worried that they are going to be - they're going to lose business because of disappointing attendance at Penn State football games. I also wonder about this: The $60 million penalty comes out of the athletic program. The athletic program may also suffer if they make less money from less attendance. And of course the football program at Penn State is said to subsidize other sports, including women's sports, and that is common at a number of universities. Could athletes who had nothing to do with the football team end up suffering here?

JR.: Well, that's the fear, and it really remains to be seen how this money will impact the other programs, women's sports on campus. It's not supposed to. This is going to be a devastating hit to Penn State's budget. I don't think we even appreciate the hundreds of millions of dollars in total that this is going to strike at Penn State's budget. And it's a state-financed school, and that's a part of the story that's going to play out over the next weeks and months.

INSKEEP: In just a few seconds, has anybody ever been levied a $60 million fine before?

JR.: No. That is historic. Everything about these sanctions are - we've never seen before, and some people said the death penalty in some ways would not have been as harsh as all of the sanctions that were leveled yesterday against Penn State.

INSKEEP: Don Van Natta, pleasure speaking with you. Thanks very much.

JR.: Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: Don Van Natta, Jr. is a senior reporter at, and also ESPN the magazine. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.