- Nailed to the Crossbar: From the NCAA–Penn State Consent Decree to the Joe Paterno Family Lawsuit by Ronald A. Smith
On January 13, 2011, Joe Paterno received the Gerald R. Ford Award from NCAA President Mark Emmert for his lifetime of service in college athletics to a rousing ovation. In his remarks about Paterno, the head football coach at Penn State since 1966, Emmert told the audience, “For me, Coach Paterno is the definitive role model of what it means to be a college coach. . . . His ‘total-person’ approach is a terrific example of everything the NCAA stands for” (21). However, less than twelve months later, the emergence of the Jerry Sandusky Scandal drastically altered Emmert’s perception of Paterno and the culture within Penn State athletics.
In his new book, Nailed to the Crossbar: From the NCAA–Penn State Consent Decree to the Joe Paterno Family Lawsuit, Ronald Smith argues that Emmert grossly, and illegally, overreached in his response to the sexual-assault charges filed against Sandusky, the football team’s defensive coordinator. By signing the Consent Decree, a document crafted by the NCAA that contained a series of punitive and corrective penalties aimed at Penn State, President Rod Erickson agreed to vacate 111 of Paterno’s career wins—which removed him as college football’s all-time winningest coach—and accepted a host of substantial [End Page 103] sanctions, including an unprecedented $60 million fine. Additionally, Smith explores a pair of lawsuits against the NCAA aimed at refuting the legality of the Consent Decree as well as the impact the controversy had on Paterno’s legacy.
Smith opines that Emmert, reeling from mounting criticism over his handling of several high-profile scandals involving other collegiate athletic programs, ignored both NCAA by-laws and due process and bullied Erickson into signing “the single most damaging sanctions to any institution in the history of the NCAA” (16). Emmert used the Sandusky scandal, according to Smith, as a means to prop up the “inept NCAA leadership” that had failed in the eyes of many to administer appropriate punishments in recent scandals (2). Smith, a professor emeritus at Penn State, infuses the book with an insider’s perspective particularly when he explores how the university’s culture allowed Emmert to take advantage of Erickson. “Deliberation was not what the Penn State Board of Trustees or presidents were used to,” Smith insightfully explains. “Negatives and debate were almost always absent” (65). As a result, Erickson, naïve concerning the intricate details of operating an athletic department and without sage advice from the university’s legal team, agreed to the crushing sanctions.
Smith details two lawsuits against the NCAA beginning with state senator Jake Corman’s case against the NCAA over the geographical distribution of the $60 million fine levied against the university. The money would be used to fight child abuse, but the NCAA wanted to spend it nationwide. However, Corman’s team, led by Matthew Haverstick, contended that the expenditures should be allocated within Pennsylvania. The NCAA mistakenly defended the Consent Decree in court as a “good-faith, bargained contract with Penn State,” which allowed Haverstick to challenge the legitimacy of the entire thing (94).
Following a settlement between the NCAA and Haverstick, the Paterno family sued the NCAA for basing the Consent Decree on the Freeh Report, an investigation into the Sandusky scandal by former FBI director Louis Freeh. The Freeh Report did not engage the issue of NCAA rules violations, and individuals whose names appeared in it were not given any due process to refute their inclusion. Although Smith acknowledges that the settlement of the Paterno lawsuit raises questions concerning the family’s motivations, the NCAA should not have used the Freeh Report as the basis for punishing Penn State.
As to the specific impact of the Consent Decree on Joe Paterno’s legacy, Smith strikes a balance between outlining the Paternos...