Penn State has been sanctioned by the NCAA for its actions.
The scandal at Penn State has many colleges and universities discussing the role of athletics on campus. Mount Saint Mary's University President Tom Powell, a former member of the NCAA board, says the school in "Happy Valley" could have avoided a lot of problems if officials conducted an investigation when allegations against former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky first surfaced, rather than protecting their prestigious and lucrative football program. "How hard would have been for the University to uncover that if they care to say 'there are no sacred cows here, and we're going to investigate at every level,'" says Powell.
Allegations that Sandusky molested boys on campus were revealed in 2011. In June, 2012, Sandusky was convicted of abusing 10 boys over a 15-year period. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison. Sandusky says he's innocent and his lawyers will appeal.
The scandal at Penn State led to sanctions by the NCAA, including a $60-million fine, the vacating of 112 wins from 1998-2011, a four-year postseason bowl ban, a four-year scholarship reduction and a five-year probation for the athletic department. It also tarnished the reputation of legendary football coach Joe Paterno, who died in late 2011.
Powell noted that the Nittany Lions went along with the sanctions to avoid the so-called "death penalty," which would have resulted in the suspension of the football program for one year. "And it wasn't just the abuse," Powell says. "It was the act of not doing anything when they knew about the abuse and not taking more stringent actions against Jerry Sandusky."
When this scandal broke, President Powell says he circulated a statement across campus relating his thoughts on the situation. He also informed the staff of they must do if they know about or hear about allegations such as what happened at Penn State. "We have a student-athlete welfare committee, and they just look at anything to do with improving the welfare of our students," he says. "And that also gets to be a grievance board for student-athletes to come to if they don't feel they are being treated fairly or there are some systemic problems."
"There is an absolute zero tolerance for anything that would speak to abusing, mistreating, disrespecting our students on the campus by me, the President," Powell continues. "I am sure if I tolerated anything I would expect the board to fire me immediately." He also says the University is required by law to report any child abuse allegations it receives. That also includes the sports camps conducted by Mount Saint Mary's during the summer.
There are 325 student-athletes at the Mount, according to Powell.
In the past, intercollegiate athletics was a way for students to learn such skills as tenacity, discipline and teamwork. That's still the case, but money is involved and, says Powell, winning at all costs has become a priority. "We need to put athletics back in the proper place. It is to enhance the academic environment. It's not to replace the academic environment or become more important than what we're doing academically." Powell says most of the student-athletes at the Mount will not be playing for professional sports teams after they graduate.
Powell also says another problem has to do with huge salaries paid to coaches at larger universities. He says coaches with a lot of wins to their names are often recruited by other colleges who offer them larger salaries, and that means you don't have coaches who stay at the same school for a long time, helping to nurture young athletes. "My plan, that never saw the light of day, unfortunately, was to tie the salaries to what we pay our chief academic officers," Powell says.
Mount Saint Mary's University has no football program, but it has a very successful basketball program. It's part of the NCAA's Division One, the third smallest school in that Division, according to Powell.