STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — A former U.S. senator brought in to monitor Penn State said Friday the university has gotten “off to a very good start” in responding to NCAA sanctions for the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal.
George Mitchell’s first quarterly report as Penn State’s athletics integrity monitor noted there was a looming deadline to complete a set of reforms, including implementation of a college sports code of conduct, but he said he believes university officials are acting in good faith.
“The university’s efforts have resulted in tangible achievements,” Mitchell wrote. “Many formal policies have been revised or adopted, including policies to govern background checks for university employees, access to athletics and recreational facilities, protection of children involved in university-affiliated activities, and the duties to report possible child abuse.”
The 68-year-old Sandusky, a former Penn State assistant football coach, was convicted this summer of abusing several boys, some on campus. He’s serving a 30- to 60-year prison sentence but maintains he is innocent.
Three former university administrators, accused of covering up complaints about Sandusky’s behavior and lying to a grand jury that investigated the case, have been charged with perjury, obstruction and other offenses. The three men, former president Graham Spanier, former vice president Gary Schultz and athletic director Tim Curley, who’s on leave while the final year of his contract runs out, have denied the allegations against them.
Mitchell, who served as a Democratic U.S. senator from Maine in the 1980s and ’90s, said more than 9,600 people at Penn State’s dozens of campuses already have been trained about legal duties to report suspected child abuse. He noted that university ID is now required for entrance to athletic and recreational facilities and much more elaborate rules are in place for adults involved in programs for children on campus.
“There appears to be unanimity within the Penn State community that one outcome of this tragedy should be greater awareness of the prevalence of child abuse in society generally and the devotion of more university resources to prevent it where the university can play a role in doing so,” Mitchell wrote.
NCAA president Mark Emmert said he was pleased with Penn State’s progress.
“Penn State has taken the first important steps necessary to ensure a culture of athletics integrity and we look forward to seeing continued progress as the (athletics integrity agreement) is fully implemented,” Emmert said.
Penn State president Rodney Erickson issued a statement saying the university was proud of the progress it has made.
“While we recognize that there is much more to do, we’re happy that Sen. Mitchell and his team recognize all that we have done and we are committed to continuing these efforts, in full compliance with the consent decree and the athletics integrity agreement,” Erickson said.
Mitchell will keep tabs on the university’s actions for five years under a binding consent decree it made with the Indianapolis-based NCAA and the Big Ten Conference following Sandusky’s conviction.
The landmark sanctions from the NCAA included a four-year ban from postseason play and significant scholarship cuts for the marquee football program.
The agreement with college sports’ governing body also included a $60 million fine, among other requirements, but the football program avoided being suspended, the so-called death penalty.
Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation on Friday wrote to Emmert, asking him to devote the entire $60 million to child abuse prevention efforts within the state, rather than the minimum of 25 percent currently earmarked.
The university is implementing an athletics code of conduct, which its legal counsel said reaffirms current guidelines.
Mitchell’s report noted the code of conduct would be circulated for review and signature to athletes, coaches, administrators, team managers and others in the university community, including trustees.
But three trustees at their board’s Nov. 16 meeting sought to emphasize that passing such a code didn’t equate to the board giving its approval to the NCAA sanctions, which were agreed to by Erickson. That underscored that deep fractures remain among some alumni over the penalties and Erickson’s handling of talks with the NCAA.
Most vocal critics are particularly incensed that the sanctions affected players who had nothing to do with the abuse scandal and that the NCAA acted with uncharacteristic speed in handing down penalties while other legal issues were unresolved.