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Mason says Penn State sanctions are harsh but necessary

BY NICHOLAS MILLER | JULY 24, 2012 6:30 AM

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As the result of former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky's sex-abuse scandal, the NCAA has imposed a slew of "unprecedented" sanctions against the university, including a four-year postseason ban and $60 million fine.

In an interview Monday afternoon with The Daily Iowan, UI President Sally Mason said the sanctions against Penn State were harsh but necessary for the university to move forward and start fresh.

"They send a very strong message about institutional control," she said. "… About the importance of making certain that educational institutions stay focused on their primary mission, which is education."

Mason, who is the chairwoman of the Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors, also discussed the additional sanctions handed to Penn State by the Big Ten, which include being banned from the Big Ten championship game for four years and an additional $13 million fine. The NCAA and Big Ten fines will go toward programs dedicated to the protection of children and prevention of abuse.

Sandusky was convicted of 45 out of 48 counts of sexual abuse, and the Freeh Report, released by former FBI Director Louis Freeh on July 12, indicated that former Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary, former President Graham Spanier, former administrators Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, and former Nittany Lion head coach Joe Paterno were aware of Sandusky's activity between 1998 and 2011.

In addition to the four-year postseason ban, the school faces five years probation for the football program, and all wins recorded between 1998 and 2011 have been wiped from the record books, meaning Paterno is no longer the football coach with the most victories in NCAA history. The Nittany Lions will also lose 20 scholarships a year.

Mason said sports at all institutions need to understand the greater mission of the university, which should foremost be the education of students.

"Depending on what that institutional culture is or has become, we, as presidents, know that we are responsible for what happens at these institutions," she said.

Before the NCAA sanctions were announced this morning, Mason said she and the rest of the Big Ten presidents anticipated severe penalties.

"We were prepared and had been discussing for quite a while as the Big Ten presidents what our response would be," she said.

Mason said the Big Ten leaders wanted to support the NCAA sanctions, while also being supportive to their sister university, Penn State. The council believes Penn State will be able to meet the current challenges and regain the respect she said they deserve as a research institution.

Mason said discussion among the Big Ten presidents over how to handle the Penn State issue began last year when the abuse allegations first surfaced.

Penn State's current president, Rodney Erickson, was involved in those discussions up until the conditions against Penn State became very specific, Mason said.

"Everything was on the table. There were extensive conversations, many, many hours over a period of days," she said. "The fines that were levied both by the Big Ten conference and the NCAA, all of that money will be going to help, better understand, and deal with issues surrounding child abuse of any kind, but certainly child sex abuse."

The discussions also brought about the idea for a document that will outline how institutions can help themselves and help each other with issues surrounding institutional control and big-time sports programs, Mason said.

"We asked our conference commissioner to begin to devise a process or at least a set of standards by which we all wish to abide," she said. "That is a big document for the Big Ten moving forward; it's important now to place it in the context of what we know now versus what we knew back in December."

She hopes the document will be completed during the next academic year and available for reference the following year.

Besides creating new policies and procedures for dealing with this type of situation in the future, she said all of the conference members are examining their institutions to make sure nothing similar to this could occur again.

"Everyone of us has examined, in the wake of what happened at Penn State, what kinds of processes and controls we have intact in our institutions at this point in time to ensure against the kinds of things that happened, especially with the young victims at Penn State," she said. "We all have sports camps, we all have programs that involve young children coming to our campuses. We all have to look at how we manage those programs, how we manage the people we have responsible for those programs, and that we have safeguards in place, so that something comparable to what happened at Penn State cannot happen again."

With the football season set to start in a few weeks, Mason said she hopes Hawkeye fans will be respectful to the Penn State football players. The Hawkeyes are scheduled to play Penn State in a night game on Oct. 20 in Kinnick Stadium, which has historically been very well-attended.

"How that's going to transpire this year is anybody's guess; I hope our fans will be respectful," she said.

Mason said she hopes the fans will remember that the young people who will represent Penn State at the games were in no way responsible for the actions of the previous administrators at Penn State.

"I think we will have a somber season as we play Penn State, as we should," she said. "It would be the respectful thing to do at this point."


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