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What You Don’t Know About The NCAA’s Sanctions Against Penn State

The sanctions on Penn State’s football program got the press, but two other parts of the NCAA’s consent decree with the university might have a more lasting impact on how the university operates going forward. The first was the hiring of an Athletics Integrity Officer, who turned out to be  former Senator George Mitchell. The second was the signing of an Athletics Integrity Agreementbetween Penn State, the NCAA, and the Big Ten.

That agreement has now been struck, and it includes a number of requirements designed to shape how Penn State’s athletics department operates over the next five years and beyond. And at the end of the document, it includes a big stick to make sure the university holds up its end of the agreement.

What’s in the Agreement

The agreement requires Penn State to hire an Athletics Integrity Officer, which the school has already done. The Athletics Integrity Officer, along with an Athletics Integrity Council, is responsible for implementing policies and procedures designed to ensure greater compliance with NCAA rules, as well as to maintain better institutional control. Chief among those are implementing the recommendations of the Freeh report.

Penn State is also required to implement a Code of Conduct and policies for all student-athletes and any employee who is involved with athletics. This Code of Conduct has to include the expectation that all these individuals will follow NCAA and Big Ten rules, as well as the Athletics Integrity Agreement. But more importantly, the Code of Conduct protects individuals who use a Disclosure Program that Penn State must implement.

All individuals in the athletics department must receive annual training in NCAA and Big Ten rules as well as the principles of institutional control and ethical conduct. That training is extended to the senior leadership of the university as well as the Board of Trustees.

The disclosure program Penn State must develop has to be designed to maintain anonymity and confidentiality, to the greatest extent possible. The program must also emphasize that individuals who report violations or crimes involving the athletic department will not be retaliated against. The Athletics Integrity Officer is responsible for making the initial review of information that comes through the disclosure program and ensuring that proper follow-up occurs if necessary.

The university must report regularly to the NCAA and Big Ten regarding compliance with the agreement. If Penn State is found to have breached the agreement, the NCAA President proposes sanctions. Penn State can appeal those sanctions to the NCAA Executive Committee. But after that, Penn State has waived any other appeals or process, including hearings in front of the Committee on Infractions or a lawsuit against the NCAA.

What It Means For Penn State

The agreement itself is relatively vague. More or less the agreement requires Penn State to let Senator Mitchell do the job he was hired to do and sets some of the major areas to focus on (training, disclosure, protecting whistleblowers) over the next five years. Most of the more specific recommendations come from the requirement that Penn State implement the Freeh report recommendations.

The bigger message of the agreement is that Penn State’s time under the thumb of the NCAA is far from over. Rather, it is just beginning. Since NCAA President Mark Emmert announced the sanctions against Penn State, people have asked when the NCAA will use a similar process again. The most likely answer, given the agreement, is Penn State.

Given the vagueness of the agreement and its focus on reporting violations, training in ethical conduct and integrity, and implementing better compliance procedures, it is easy to see how a major violation at Penn State is likely to land them back in front of President Emmert, not the Committee on Infractions. The actions that typically get labeled as a failure to monitor, lack of institutional control, failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance, or unethical conduct would seem to also be breaches of the Athletics Integrity Agreement.

What It Means for the NCAA

The biggest message being sent is that Penn State is not simply being sanctioned and then left alone to rebuild. Probation in the NCAA is a lot of work, but rarely results in a school violating the probation. Even if a school did violate its probation, the penalty is the increasingly empty threat of the death penalty.

Penn State though is less on probation and more in a halfway house. This is a type of probation and monitoring following a violation that the NCAA could use in serious cases going forward. Rather than watching and hoping that institutional control improves on a campus, the NCAA may become increasingly active in defining what that means and putting boots on the ground to make sure schools do not simply weather penalties, then continue business as usual.

Do you think the rehabilitation program is fair for Penn State? Will it be implemented again in the future? Let us know in the comments section below, or connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+!

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