(Reuters) - Penn State University faces potentially crippling sanctions against its football program on Monday, when the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is due to announce punitive measures stemming from former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky’s sexual abuse of children.
The NCAA has called a news conference at 9:00 a.m. EDT in Indianapolis, Indiana, to announce “corrective and punitive” measures against the school, and could levy the so-called “death penalty” that would eliminate an entire season or more for the scandal-scarred football program.
In June, Sandusky was convicted of sexually abusing 10 boys over 15 years. This month, former FBI director Louis Freeh released a report that criticized longtime head football coach Joe Paterno for his role in protecting Sandusky, and the school’s image, at the expense of Sandusky’s young victims.
Michael McCann, the director of the Sports Law Institute at the Vermont Law School, said the death penalty is rarely applied and is designed for programs with repeat offenses.
“It’s seldom used but these are extraordinary circumstances,” he said. “I think there would be a strong justification for the death penalty or a sanction that’s commensurate with the offense and would require Penn State to correct the institutional failures that led to this disastrous scandal.”
The NCAA appeared to be moving with unprecedented speed, and to be relying on Freeh’s findings instead of conducting its own investigation.
Possible penalties also include barring the team from bowl appearances and withdrawing scholarships, experts said.
Attorney Alan Milstein said the Penn State case differed from other cases where the NCAA imposed disciplinary measures, in that the college faces potential criminal and civil penalties in addition to any punishment the NCAA might hand down.
“They’re paying fairly dearly in addition to these sanctions for the violations,” Milstein said.
Penn State could face hundreds of millions of dollars in civil liabilities, legal experts have said.
The university is also under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education for possible violations of the Clery Act, which requires colleges to collect and report daily and annual crime statistics and issue timely warnings.
Penn State’s storied football team is undergoing a reckoning after long serving as the university’s cash cow, not only for ticket and merchandise sales but for the goodwill it instilled in deep-pocketed donors and alumnae. The scandal also sparked a national conversation about child predation.
Freeh’s report, commissioned by the university’s board of trustees and released on July 12, said Paterno and other high-ranking school officials covered up Sandusky’s actions for years while demonstrating a callous disregard for the abuse victims.
Paterno was fired by Penn State’s board in November, days after Sandusky was arrested for the abuse.
Sandusky, 68, awaits sentencing. He faces up to 373 years in prison.
In 2001, graduate assistant Mike McQueary witnessed Sandusky assaulting a boy in the showers at the Penn State athletic complex. McQueary told Paterno, who told Athletic Director Tim Curley, who subsequently talked with then-university Vice President Gary Schultz and university President Graham Spanier. No one went to the police.
Spanier was fired in November at the same time as Paterno. Curley and Schultz have been charged with perjury for allegedly lying to a grand jury investigating Sandusky’s crimes and for failing to report suspected child abuse. They have pleaded not guilty.
If the team is allowed to play this year, Milstein said it will likely face a “comeuppance,” saying the scandal will provide rich fodder for hecklers supporting rival teams.
“For years, Penn State wore on its sleeves that it was so clean and, by extension, everyone else was so dirty, and obviously that facade has been broken,” he said.
Additional reporting by Greg McCune; Editing by Eric Walsh