No one is immune from the emotion of what has been revealed in a courtroom in East Lansing, Michigan the last few weeks. Watching the penalty phase of Larry Nassar’s trial has been equal parts compelling and heart wrenching. Nassar robbed more than 150 young women of their innocence, their well being and their belief that the adults in charge were there to help. The stories from the gymnasts, past and present, opened our collective eyes to something so horrific, it is hard to comprehend the scope of depravity.
Michigan State Investigation; No Place For The NCAA
As often happens in these types of cases, the scope of what we are learning continues to widen. As is usually the case, when we turn over rocks and shine bright lights on the underbelly, we find more than what we thought we knew. Nassar, of course was a trainer for USA Gymnastics beginning in 1986, and many youth gymnastics programs. In 1997 he began working at Michigan State and became the national medical coordinator for USA Gymnastics.
Here is where the rocks get turned over. Because Nassar was at Michigan State, investigators have spent significant hours looking into what the school may have known about his crimes. They have dug into whether the athletic department heard rumors about his degeneracy. The more you dig under a rock, the more disturbing things you tend to find. There are now questions regarding the football and basketball programs at Michigan State. Of course, they have nothing to do with Nassar. This is the collateral damage from the burrowing.
Football head coach Mark Dantonio is now being accused in public of helping cover up sexual assault allegations against some off his players. ESPN’s “Outside The Lines” ran a story last week that included allegations by a former MSU sexual assault counselor. She alleged that Dantonio, with the help of the athletic department, had swept accusations against at least one of his players under the rug. There are similar allegations in the ESPN report against men’s basketball coach Tom Izzo. Dantonio, for his part, vehemently denied the accusations Friday night. Izzo said he had not seen the report but would cooperate fully with any investigation.
There is the word that is getting sports fans into a lather. Investigation. Based on social media feeds, direct messages, and my timelines, college sports fans seem to think the NCAA is going to investigate the athletic department at Michigan State and drop the hammer. Folks, the NCAA has no hammer to drop.
Yes, the NCAA announced they were looking into the allegations. What were they supposed to do? Sit there monitoring extra meal benefits at Western Kentucky, while one of the biggest sports scandals in history was being uncovered on a college campus? The fact is there is little for the NCAA to investigate. We don’t like hearing that, but there is a small matter of jurisdiction.
The NCAA’s explicit role is:
- Monitor “amateurism” and competitiveness in college sports.
- Investigate those who may have violated the rules regarding “amateurism” and punish transgressors.
- Provide financial restitution to member institutions from things like post season play and television contracts.
- Hand out NCAA championship trophies to the national champions in all sports except FBS/D1 football, (there has never been a NCAA champion in the sport and there still is not).
That’s it. Sure, they play ancillary roles that generally fall under the guise of one of the above. But which of the above categories apply to the current Michigan State situation with Dantonio and Izzo? None.
If any of the allegations concerning the football program are true, then some players past and/or present committed some degree of sexual assault. Depending upon the specifics, they would have committed either state or federal crimes. None of that is a NCAA violation. IF, and we emphasize IF, any of the allegations against Dantonio are true, then he perhaps committed some form of a cover up of the crime(s). Again, those are matters that federal and state investigators would scrutinize.
None of those issues, not a single one, falls under the purview of the NCAA. It may sound absurd that committing a crime is not necessarily a NCAA violation, but it so, and for good reason.
The NCAA And The Lessons Of Penn State
Over the last 10 years, the NCAA has employed anywhere from 10-13 full time investigators. There of course are dozens in the marketing department and other staff positions as well as an army of lawyers negotiating contracts. But for the task of investigating allegation into wrongdoing by member universities and colleges, as well as athletes, there have been anywhere from 10-13 people to probe the ne’er do wellers. They are trained in questioning witnesses as far as NCAA rules, following a money trail, and dispatching findings as they pertain to codes in the NCAA guidelines. What they are not trained to do is investigate state and federal crimes.
When in the past they have tried to extend their scope of relevance, they have been shot down. The messages I have been getting bring up Penn State and the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse case. Penn State was put on probation for four years, banned from lucrative bowl games for that same period, lost 40 scholarships, fined $60 million, and players were given the opportunity to transfer immediately without the usual one-year period of sitting out. Penn State was found guilty of not acting regarding sexual assault reports. Like it or not, believe it or not, that is not a violation of NCAA rules. Should it be? That is another argument. Was it? No.
The school accepted the penalties to avoid the shuttering of the entire program via the NCAA death penalty. But within months, the Pennsylvania state legislature took the NCAA to court. They contended the governing body of college athletics had stepped well outside the boundaries of its authority. In the early stages of the proceedings, it became clear the NCAA was over its skis. They admitted they did not do their own investigation. Instead they relied on the report completed by former FBI director Louis Freeh. That report was commissioned by the regents at Penn State. The NCAA did not have the manpower or the depth of expertise to investigate criminal allegations.
The two sides reached an accord. The school got all its scholarships back, the probation was ended and in exchange the school agreed to the $60 million fine with the money going to charities for abused children. School and athletic department administrators went to jail, as should have happened, but not because the NCAA investigated anything.
Crimes Do Not Equal NCAA Violations
In recent days, MSU president Lou Anna Simon and athletic director Mark Hollis have agreed to step down. That means the NCAA no longer has subpoena power over them. Think that through. Two of the highest-ranking people who would have knowledge as to how the alleged crimes would have been reported are no longer compelled to testify at a NCAA hearing. If you do not work for a NCAA institution, the body has no compulsory power over you. The school’s current Title IX administrator has received advice on how to proceed from the federal Department of Education.
This is way, way over the heads of the NCAA and its investigators. It took them three years to investigate academic fraud at North Carolina and they came up flat. One of the most obvious scandals involving amateurism and benefits took three years. You want them to investigate alleged sex crimes, cover ups and obstruction cases? Really? Have you noticed they are silent on the travesty at Baylor? There is a reason.
What happened in the Larry Nassar case was a disgusting history of negligence and abuse, by Nassar, by USA Gymnastics, by the US Olympic Committee, and apparently by some at Michigan State. There is the potential that as happened with Penn State, some MSU administrators are going to go to jail for their part in a cover-up of Nassar’s activities. What has been reported with regards to the football and basketball programs also must be investigated; by actual state and federal authorities. Putting the NCAA anywhere near this is like having the mall cops investigate the bank heist after the FBI has already dusted for fingerprints.