Freeh Group Member Criticizes NCAA's Use of Investigative Report

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The NCAA's president, Mark Emmert (right), and Ed Ray, chairman of its Executive Committee and president of Oregon State U., announce sanctions against Penn State last Monday.
July 27, 2012

[Updated (7/27/2012, 6:31 p.m.) with comment from the Freeh Group.]

A member of the team that produced a 267-page report condemning the response of Pennsylvania State University's leaders to a serial child molester believes that the NCAA's use of that document was insufficient to justify the punishment it handed the university this week.

"That document was not meant to be used as the sole piece, or the large piece, of the NCAA's decision making," a source familiar with the investigation told The Chronicle on Thursday. "It was meant to be a mechanism to help Penn State move forward. To be used otherwise creates an obstacle to the institution changing."

Penn State's Board of Trustees commissioned Louis J. Freeh, a former FBI director, to investigate how the university had handled the case of Jerry Sandusky, the assistant football coach who was convicted last month of 45 counts of molesting children.

Mr. Freeh's team of investigators released their report this month. It described how a reverence for football had led four top officials­—including Graham B. Spanier, the university's president at the time, and Joe Paterno, the longtime coach, who died in January—to cover up repeated allegations of child sexual abuse by Mr. Sandusky.

A confidentiality agreement forbids members of Mr. Freeh's group to speak publicly about the investigation. Late Friday, a spokesperson for the group released the following statement: "The Freeh Group emphatically stated that no member of its investigative team spoke to The Chronicle of Higher Education for its story. The Freeh Group has no comment on the NCAA's use of the report."

Mark Emmert, the NCAA's president, repeatedly referred to the Freeh document during his news conference on Monday announcing the penalties, which included a $60-million fine, a four-year ban on bowl-game participation, and significant reductions in scholarships.

The report, Mr. Emmert said, was "vastly more involved and thorough than any investigation we've ever conducted." It included interviews with more than 400 people and a review of some three million documents. Given Penn State's acceptance of the findings, Mr. Emmert and other NCAA leaders set aside a possible investigation of their own and, in less than 10 days, decided on Penn State's punishment.

But allowing the Freeh report to form the basis for such a heavy penalty was not enough, said the person close to Mr. Freeh's group. "The Freeh team reviewed how Penn State operated, not how they worked within the NCAA's system," this person said. "The NCAA's job is to investigate whether Penn State broke its rules and whether it gained a competitive advantage in doing so."

The NCAA's decision, this person said, could have a lasting negative impact on the university—and not just in football.

"In using this report largely as the basis for their decision, the NCAA could hurt Penn State's enrollment, recruiting, and outside relationships and partnerships," the source said. "If you don't attract good faculty and research dollars, your institution has no stature."

'Nothing Is Black and White'

Last November, Mr. Emmert posed a series of questions in a letter to Rodney A. Erickson, Penn State's interim president, signaling what looked like a separate inquiry into the university.

"That letter leads any reasonable person to think that the NCAA was starting their own investigation," said the person with knowledge of Mr. Freeh's team. "If the NCAA wasn't going to investigate, they would have said, 'This is a law-enforcement matter.'"

Throughout the eight-month inquiry, NCAA leaders received regular updates about the Freeh investigators' findings. That should have clarified the "narrow focus" of the Freeh group's work, the source said, which was to provide the facts about Penn State's leaders, giving a sense of how decisions were made and how the university was governed.

The report painted a damning picture of four top administrators: Mr. Spanier; Mr. Paterno; Gary C. Schultz, a former senior vice president; and Timothy M. Curley, the athletic director, on administrative leave.

Mr. Spanier was the only one among them to be interviewed by the Freeh investigators, and that was just days before the report was released. (Mr. Curley and Mr. Schultz, facing charges of perjury and failing to report child abuse, did not answer questions for the report.)

Because of those and other limitations, some of the Freeh team's findings were circumstantial. "The report is critical, but nothing is black and white," The Chronicle's source said. "No investigation can totally answer all the questions everyone has."

The Freeh report also could have explored more about the various coaches who knew about Mr. Sandusky's showering with boys—an area in which the NCAA obviously should have followed up, said the person close to the Freeh investigation.

"The NCAA took this report and ran with it without further exploration," this person said. "If you really wanted to show there was a nexus to cover up, interview the coaches. See their knowledge and culpability and how far this went."

The NCAA's approach is not sitting well with the source close to Mr. Freeh's staff.

"The sanctions against Penn State were really overwhelming, and no one imagined the report being used to do that," this person said. "People thought it would help others draw conclusions about what happened and provide a guide for leaders to be able to identify minefields and navigate through them.

"Instead, Emmert took the report and used Penn State's own resources to do them in," the person said. "The institution is made of people, too. And they don't deserve this."