As to whether the punishment fit the crime in the imposition of punishment on current student-athletes and coaches that had no fault here, it is difficult to equate Jerry Sandusky's heinous actions and subsequent cover-up with standard NCAA violations that go to competitive advantage. Therefore, I can see why many people are having trouble with the punishment being levied against the innocent members of the football program in Happy Valley. Let's put that aside for the moment, though, to clear away some of what I consider to be misinformation and misinterpretations of this latest NCAA headline. In addition to punishment itself, Mark Emmert's executive declaration of Penn State's punishment on Monday left many on the sidelines enraged over (1) a lack of "due process" and (2) setting a bad precedent for future NCAA enforcement matters. As to (1), "due process" is not accorded to member institutions in the NCAA process, and I do not believe that (2) should concern current and future alleged rule-breakers in standard areas of violation such as recruiting, benefits, academic eligibility, amateurism, etc.
As to the due process issue, the NCAA administrative law process does not accord Federal or state constitutional due process protection for those parties that go through enforcement proceedings, be it student-athlete reinstatement (SAR) or infractions. The U.S. Supreme Court made it clear that the NCAA is not a governmental actor and thus is not obligated to provide due process. Nat’l Collegiate Athletic Ass’n v. Tarkanian, 488 U.S. 179, 179 (1988). The NCAA is a private association made up of members that include schools and conferences. Those schools and conferences agreed to abide by the Association rules, including potential punishments for violations of Association rules, analogous to a country club and its members. (Bylaw 126.96.36.199). Schools and conferences are voluntary members of the NCAA, and therefore must abide by the associated rules and regulations. See, Hispanic Coll. Fund, Inc. v. Nat’l Collegiate Athletic Ass’n, 826 N.E.2d 652 (Ind. Ct. App. 2005) (holding that the NCAA’s decisions regarding organization were not subject to trial court’s review absent allegations of fraud or illegality, because the organization was a voluntary member of NCAA). Furthermore, “[t]he articles of incorporation and bylaws of a not-for-profit corporation are generally considered to be a contract between the corporation and its members and among the members themselves.” Id, at 658. Therefore, member schools are under an enforceable contract with the NCAA and subject to its rules, regulations, and any punishment it may sentence. Bylaw 19.5.2 lists all the appropriate penalties for major violations, including (l): other penalties as appropriate.
Courts have been, and remain, reluctant to accept challenges to the substance of NCAA enforcement decisions; the Oliver case being one of the few exceptions. See e.g. Justice v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass’n, 577 F. Supp. 356 (D. Ariz. 1983) (upholding NCAA sanctions for recruiting violations and denying student-athletes’ constitutiona land antitrust claims); but see Oliver v. Natl. Collegiate Athletic Assn., 2008-Ohio-7144, 155 Ohio Misc. 2d 1, 920 N.E.2d 190. Further, membership must tread lightly in either going to court to challenge a decision or, more likely, abiding by a court ruling overturning a NCAA decision pursuant to injunctive relief sought by a student-athlete, since the NCAA reserves the right to punish a member institution should an appellate court later reverse alower court’s ruling overturning a NCAA decision. See, e.g. Nat’l CollegiateAthletic Ass’n v. Jones, 1 S.W.3d 83 (Tex. 1999) (holding that the NCAA’s appeal from an injunction granted at the trial court level was not moot as to the applicability of retroactive penalties). Challenges to the NCAA administrative law process are for when the NCAA is not following its own “fair process.” So, the question applicable to Penn State is whether the NCAA did, in fact, follow its own fair process.
The fair process established by the NCAA can be found in Article 32. From start to finish, including investigations and hearings, the infractions process takes over a year in most cases. The process includes a preliminary investigation, the possibility of summary-disposition, notice of inquiry, notice of allegation, institution investigation, written responses to the allegation, hearing, final Committee report and possible appeal. For example, allegations of impermissible recruiting and student-athletes receiving benefits from professional agents at the University of South Carolina first came to light in July 2010. The Public Infractions Report was issued two years later on April 27, 2012. On the other hand, the overall process with Penn State took about nine months.
However, with Penn State, the NCAA did not follow the infractions process established in Article 32. So, does the NCAA's failure to follow its already-established process of investigation, enforcement, hearing, deliberation, decision, and possible appeal violate the fair process that it is bound to follow? Yes and no. A "quick look" analysis reveals that punishment was delivered by the NCAA President without regard for the existing NCAA enforcement structure; something not specifically articulated in NCAA bylaws, and certainly not something for which we see any precedent. However, the only party with standing to challenge the NCAA's declaration is Penn State, and Penn State consented to this punishment; ergo we now have a moot challenge.
As someone who regularly represents parties in NCAA processes, knowing what information is public thus far, if I am Penn State, I do not think going through the infractions process would have been a better process for the Penn State community. Sure, the punishments might not have been as severe, but Jerry Sandusky's actions were not just corruptions of the NCAA's principles of amateurism, competitive fairness, and academic integrity, but acts of profound evil. As such, as the infractions process drags on, Sandusky's acts and any cover-up of those acts would be continually relived. Further, there is a cost in terms of counsel like myself to be involved in the process. Let's go back to the South Carolina example. The school said that it spent $535,667.50 in connection with the NCAA investigation. Finally, as to those who believe that Penn State would find relief only at the appellate level in the infractions process, there is no guarantee that Penn State would have taken the case this far. My friend, Jerry R. Parkinson, who served as a member of the NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions from 2000 until very recently (including service as the committee’s first coordinator of appeals), cited in a law review article that only thirty-four of the ninety major infractions cases that went to a hearing from 2000 to 2009 were appealed.
While I believe the less controversial route would have been an expedited infractions process that would necessarily include a summary disposition (the July 12, 2012 Freeh Report helps in this regard), for the Penn State community to heal, I have to think ripping the band-aid off quickly in the manner done here with Emmert's decision yesterday, while not ideal, is preferable to a drawn out infractions process.