who has read my most recent book, Crisis Communications, or
followed my writings about the Penn State/Jerry Sandusky scandal elsewhere, or
my public statements in numerous speeches and national media interviews can
attest, I have long championed the reinstatement of the 111 vacated wins
stripped from former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno’s record. The actual
line I used many times was succinct: Explain history, don’t rewrite it. I
pointed out that vacating those wins was purely a vindictive and punitive act
by the NCAA.
aren’t I cheering the announcement that the NCAA and the Penn State board of
trustees had agreed on a settlement (of sorts) that Paterno’s vacated wins
would be reinstated and the plaintiffs (two state officials, not Penn
State) would drop this portion of a precedent-setting lawsuit?
Because this act settles nothing. If anything, it further
obfuscates the heart of the matter. The still naïve Penn State board almost
trampled each other in a stampede to vote their unanimous approval for this
deal. This is exactly the same jump-on-the-bandwagon-mentality that got the
school into this mess in the first place. This board is the gang that couldn’t
shoot straight, writ large.
One of the
purposes of the litigation was to expose the NCAA and its power grab for what
it was. The NCAA sanctions – the infamous consent decree – never should have
happened because the issues under review were criminal matters, not NCAA
infractions. The NCAA had no jurisdiction, yet they grabbed it anyway, while
the board was too numb to see what was happening. The court case, in part, was
designed to prove that and, in so doing, have the court vacate the entire
consent decree because the sports authority overstepped its bounds by a wide
margin when it forced it down Penn State’s throat. There was every indication
that Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Judge Ann Covey was heading down that
path. Every time the NCAA filed a motion to dismiss the case for various
reasons, Judge Covey said this case is going forward. She was due to rule on the
legality of the consent decree. Stated more succinctly, she was going to rule
whether or not the NCAA had the authority to act in the authoritarian manner it
did. And the absolutely last thing the NCAA wanted was to have anyone
challenge — or worse, overturn — its authority.
But with this “settlement,” that examination doesn’t appear
likely to happen.
There is a world of difference between having Joe Paterno’s win
record restored because the NCAA never should have imposed that measure in the
first place, and a “settlement” agreement. The tally may come up to the same
impressive number of wins – 409 – but the methodology makes all the difference.
And because of a “settlement,” the stench of wrong doing still hangs heavily in
the Nittany Lion air.
In the press release the NCAA issued immediately after this
agreement, NCAA board member Kirk Schulz, Kansas State University president,
boasted, “Today’s agreement with Penn State reaffirms our authority to act.”
But Pennsylvania state senator Jake Corman, one of the lead
plaintiffs, had a different – and woefully naïve – perspective. “This is a
win,” said Corman. “The NCAA has surrendered. The agreement we have
reached represents a complete victory in the issue at hand – the consent decree
is voided.… This validates our position that the rush to judgment against the
Penn State Community was wrong….”
It does no
such thing, Sen. Corman. It proves nothing, except how woefully
naïve the board of trustees still remains. The board still does not understand
any of the basic precepts of crisis management and crisis communications.
also said, “As we progressed through the case, it was clear that the consent
decree could not stand up to the legal challenge.” I agree, which is why I
think a settlement without a statement from the NCAA admitting that the consent
decree never should have been imposed was another example of otherwise
well-intended people not understanding the power of crisis communications. Once
again, I think the NCAA played Penn State and the plaintiffs in this case like
the proverbial violin. That’s why you can have blowhards like Schulz claiming
complete victory. Schulz is correct: this is a victory for the NCAA.
The Penn State board of trustees was once again hoodwinked by the smarter,
The litigation was supposed to address the legality (or lack
thereof) of the consent decree, of which the vacating of legitimate football
victories was only a part. From the outset, the NCAA tried every trick up its
sleeve to get the case thrown out, but they met their match in Judge Covey, who
was determined to hear this case. At issue was nothing less than the NCAA’s
testicles: Did the NCAA have the authority to impose the sort of draconian
sanctions, especially given all the highly questionable goings-on behind the
scenes to force Penn State into voluntarily accepting the sanctions? One
high-ranking NCAA miscreant boasted in an email to chief thug, Mark Emmert,
that they “bluffed” Penn State into accepting sanctions, fully believing that
they didn’t have the authority to act.
If, as Corman said, it was true that the “consent decree could
not stand up to the legal challenge,” why on earth cave in on the case now?
This should be the time to double down and press forward.
This was a “back room” deal negotiated by a small group of the
entrenched members of the BOT and the upper echelons of the NCAA. Only as a
result of these legal proceedings did documents and emails come to light that
revealed the NCAA’s unscrupulous methods in pressuring Penn State into accepting
the consent decree. I have to wonder aloud what the NCAA promised – or
threatened – to get to this “settlement.” It is important to remember that the
entrenched members of the BOT were in lockstep with the NCAA all along. They
and the university were never plaintiffs in this matter. The settlement vote of
the board was unanimous, but I am surprised that the nine alumni members of the
board went along with the vote. They perceived this as a victory; it was
nothing of the sort.
still be a stench attached to the number of wins. Those critics – and they are
out there, believe me – who disagree with the reinstatement of Paterno’s wins
will never acknowledge that they should be counted. They have already started
beating the drum that the only reason the NCAA reinstated Paterno’s
victories was to try to sweep the issue under the carpet before the just
concluded NCAA annual meeting and convention.
Yes, I wanted the vacated wins to be reinstated, but not like
this. This settles nothing, except how inept the Penn State board continues to