According to ESPN and other media organizations, NCAA president Mark Emmert has elected to issue sanctions on Monday (July 23, 2012) against Pennsylvania State University, including a loss of scholarships and a multiple-year bowl ban. If the media reports are true, then the NCAA has charted an unprecedented, and perhaps unconstitutional, course of action. Federal and state courts have consistently held that membership organizations, including athletics associations like the NCAA, are required to provide procedures that protect their members against arbitrary and irrational action. Thus, an NCAA rule or decision cannot be applied unreasonably so that it creates different classes of schools. Accordingly, any NCAA sanction against Penn State at this stage may potentially violate federal and state notions of due and fair process for several reasons, including, but not limited to:
- The conduct of Penn State and its employees, no matter how egregious, is not a violation of an existing NCAA rule. In fact, according to available information, the NCAA has never interpreted, or issued sanctions under, existing rules to address only criminal violations (or the cover-up of criminal violations). Further, the NCAA has chosen to make criminal activity an NCAA rules-violation in limited circumstances (i.e., Bylaw 10.2 (Knowledge of Use of Banned Drugs) and Bylaw 188.8.131.52 (Banned Drugs))—and the activities described in the report by former FBI director Louis J. Freeh are not addressed in the NCAA Division I Manual.
- The NCAA did not establish and publish a process and procedure to address the issues relevant in Penn State’s case. Instead, the NCAA is utilizing an ad-hoc process that has not been explained fully to the membership or the public.
- The NCAA is not adhering to its existing enforcement processes and procedures.
- The NCAA is treating Penn State differently than other schools that were involved in sexual assault scandals or other serious criminal misconduct.
- The NCAA failed to provide Penn State: (a) a written notice of allegations; (b) an opportunity to respond to the notice of allegations; (c) a hearing before an NCAA infractions committee to address the allegations; and (d) a process for an appeal of NCAA findings and sanctions.
As legal counsel for colleges and universities before NCAA committees, we are extremely concerned about the possible NCAA actions and urge the organization to comply with its existing processes and procedures to address the Penn State sexual abuse scandal. In addition, based on our review of the Freeh report, the issues facing Penn State are best left in the expert hands of the criminal and civil courts, the federal Departments of Justice and Education, the Pennsylvania General Assembly and the relevant accrediting agencies.
The Michael L. Buckner Law Firm will issue a comprehensive statement on its blog (https://bucknersportslaw.wordpress.com/) after the NCAA announces the Penn State penalties.