Senior College Football Columnist

Will emails from Penn State VP of Student Affairs about Paterno trigger NCAA?

Uncovered Penn State emails detailing Joe Paterno's reach of power could lead the NCAA to intervene. (AP)

The issue of whether the NCAA should get involved in the Penn State scandal connected to the school's handling of the Jerry Sandusky situation is an intriguing one. Many have reasoned that no matter how distasteful the actions of Penn State's leadership may have been, this still is not an NCAA matter or that these were real-world crimes, which are above the NCAA's head.

On Monday, CNN reported that part of the investigation run by former FBI Direction Louis Freeh is examining how Joe Paterno pushed to handle scandalous issues internally and that could spark the NCAA's entry point into this matter. In focus: the university e-mails explicitly illustrating the level of power and influence the long-time football coach had that extended far beyond just football at Penn State.

In a 2005 e-mail from Dr. Vicky Triponey, then vice president of student affairs in charge of disciplining students, to athletic director Tim Curley and others, she summarizes a meeting she had with Paterno in which he tells her that he wants to be the sole disciplinarian of his players. She criticizes Paterno for wanting to limit the Campus Code of Conduct to incidents that take place on campus and keeping disciplinary matters involving his players private. "Coach Paterno would rather we NOT inform the public when a football player is found responsible for committing a serious violation of the law and/or our student code -- despite any moral or legal obligation to do so," according to her e-mail.

In the same e-mail, Triponey, also refers to calls her office was receiving from coaches and others. "I must insist that the efforts to put pressure on (Student Affairs) and try to influence our decisions...simply MUST STOP," she writes.

Curley, in a subsequent e-mail, acknowledges that Triponey's take on the conversation with Paterno is accurate.

Triponey replies to Curley, "I know you are caught in the middle of a very difficult situation," an apparent reference to appeasing Paterno.

In a subsequent e-mail to then-Penn State President Graham Spanier she is more blunt: "I am very troubled by the manipulative, disrespectful, uncivil and abusive behavior of our football coach," she writes.

These emails show that the university had a chain of command, but how the head football coach tried to manipulate it. And in light of everything else that has since come out about Penn State, how might these emails now be viewed by the NCAA since this is related to the Sandusky case, yet it's also not directly connected because it goes to the heart of something beyond that? And, do these emails resonate even more now than when they first came to light because the culture of Penn State football and Joe Paterno is viewed in a much different way than it was a year ago?

“This could definitely be perceived as an extra benefit and yes, it could bootstrap into LOIC (Lack of Institutional Control) without even having to address Sandusky,” says Dr. David Ridpath, Assistant Professor of Sports Administration at Ohio University. “It would set a precedent, but that is normal for the NCAA. I told a reporter it would have to be something other that Jerry Sandusky -- this is it for the NCAA if they want to do something and it does give them a bit of cover.

“I think the more it is not Jerry Sandusky, the better and they can certainly go this route. The Freeh report will be the tipping point.”

Keep in mind, this wouldn't be the first time the NCAA created a precedent tied to a high-profile case. It did that with both the Reggie Bush and Cam Newton investigations. As I wrote a few weeks back, the NCAA's lists of acts that demonstrate a lack of institutional control are tied to violation of NCAA rules, not real-world crimes -- but the NCAA brass is on record as saying it would be keeping an eye on how things unfolded with the Penn State investigation. Well, now we're getting into the investigation of the culture at Penn State.

“In this case there is an opening at least for potential NCAA violations based upon the emails and the culture of Paterno," explains Ridpath. "Technically if someone is found "guilty" of a student code violation, they could be suspended from extra curricular activities (I harken back to my days being banished to Judicial Affairs where I was the Vicky Triponey at Marshall). So if Paterno is handling punishment and players are still being allowed to play when a normal student might have been suspended from Band or a fraternity (or school for that matter) for similar violations, then certainly it can be categorized as an extra benefit and even a competitive advantage as potentially players who should have been suspended may have still played. Then it could play into LOIC without even addressing Sandusky and the NCAA feels like it is doing something, and in many ways, they are addressing a prevailing culture throughout ICA where powerful coaches are calling the shots on things well outside their purview.

“They (the NCAA) might do something without realizing how much they can empower others on campus, which will really shed a light on how “campus governance” works with a big-time coach. I think this is a good thing, a very good thing for institutional control -- but will the NCAA let it happen? Maybe, maybe not. Someone is going to realize this, and at least state behind the scenes that a big can of worms will be opened because so many coaches exist and control like Paterno did.”


Bruce Feldman is a senior writer for CBSSports.com and college football commentator for CBS Sports Network. He is a New York Times Bestselling author, who has written books including Swing Your Sword, Meat Market and Cane Mutiny. Prior to joining CBS, Feldman spent 17 years at ESPN.
 
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