EDITORIAL: NCAA shouldn't repeat its Penn State mistake at Michigan State

York Dispatch
  • Larry Nassar, who was once employed at Michigan State, was convicted of sexually abusing girls.
  • Now the NCAA is considering getting involved in the case, like it did with Penn State.
  • In the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, the NCAA hit PSU with severe sanctions.

The NCAA shouldn't make the same mistake with Michigan State that it made with Penn State.

FILE - In this Oct. 29, 2015, file photo, former Penn State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky arrives for an appeal hearing at the Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte, Pa. Penn State has settled a lawsuit that alleged Sandusky molested the plaintiff in 2007 when he was about 14 years old, according to a settlement notice posted Monday, Jan. 8, 2018, on the Philadelphia courts website and confirmed by a lawyer for the plaintiff, called John Doe in case documents. The lawsuit had been scheduled for trial in late February. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

In 2012, the governing body of intercollegiate athletics came down like a sledgehammer on Penn State in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.

The NCAA slammed PSU with a four-year postseason ban and cut 30 scholarships from the football program. The school was  fined $60 million, and 112 of Joe Paterno’s head-coaching victories were vacated.

The NCAA did all that without conducting an investigation of its own, but instead relying completely on the findings of the Freeh Report as evidence of lack of institutional control.

That report was done by former FBI Director Louis Freeh and initiated by Penn State. In effect, the school was punished for its own attempt at trying to determine what happened and how it happened and how to make sure it didn’t happen again.

Eventually,  the NCAA backed off its initial punishment of PSU. In the settlement of a lawsuit against the NCAA, Paterno’s victories were restored. The postseason ban and the scholarship restrictions were rolled back by the NCAA after the school implemented reforms.

Overstepping its authority: Still, it’s clear the NCAA overstepped its jurisdiction in the Penn State case. The NCAA is an organization with authority over recruiting, eligibility, financial aid, practice and competition. Its main purview is making sure that its member institutions follow its rules and don’t earn a competitive advantage by breaking those rules.

The NCAA’s authority doesn’t extend to criminal acts perpetrated by someone who happens to be affiliated with an athletic team. That comes under the authority of police and civil prosecutors, who are trained to investigate such cases.

That happened in the Sandusky case. Sandusky was convicted of 45 counts of sexual abuse of young boys over a 10-year period after he retired as an assistant coach for the PSU football team. He will almost certainly never get out of prison. 

In addition, three other Penn State administrators were charged with crimes related to the case. Two pleaded guilty to child endangerment, while another was convicted child endangerment but is appealing.

NCAA inquiry into disgraced doctor at Michigan State reminds some of Penn State

Prior to their convictions, all three men lost their jobs at PSU, as did legendary head coach  Paterno.

The law was broken in the most heinous of ways at PSU and those responsible were prosecuted and lost their jobs. That’s the way our system should work. It may not work as quickly as we'd like, but it ultimately works.

However, grand-standing NCAA President Mark Emmert decided the NCAA should get involved and make an example of Penn State. He punished the school because it was a popular decision among some folks who wanted some Penn State heads on a plate, not because he had the authority to do so.

Michigan State case: Now the NCAA is considering doing something similar at Michigan State, where a disgraced doctor, Larry Nassar, was once employed. Nassar has been convicted of sexually abusing girls and young women, mostly gymnasts, under the pretense of treating their injuries.

Like the Sandusky case, the details of the Nassar case are horrific. Like  Sandusky, Nassar will likely never get out of jail.

Larry Nassar sits with attorney Matt Newburg during his sentencing hearing Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018, in Lansing, Mich. The former sports doctor who admitted molesting some of the nation's top gymnasts for years was sentenced Wednesday to 40 to 175 years in prison as the judge declared: "I just signed your death warrant."  The sentence capped a remarkable seven-day hearing in which scores of Nassar's victims were able to confront him face to face in the Michigan courtroom.  (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

That is as it should be.

In addition, anyone who knew about Nassar’s crimes and did not report them or, even worse, actively covered them up, should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

In addition, the school should conduct its own investigation, just as Penn State did. MSU must take all the necessary steps to make sure such a horror never occurs again.

The MSU president and athletic director have already resigned. The head football coach and head basketball coach are under intense pressure to do likewise because of acts of sexual violence allegedly committed by some of their players over the years.

The system is working at Michigan State, thanks to a push from some fine investigative journalism by multiple outlets. Something very similar happened in the PSU case.

Now, the NCAA just needs to stay out of the way and not repeat the mistake it made with Penn State.