Will NCAA be next to pile on Penn State?

The typically heavy-handed NCAA has remained remarkably tight-lipped on all matters related to the scandal that has engulfed Pennsylvania State University.

The recent release of the Freeh report has reiterated what just about everyone already knew -- that certain high-ranking officials at the university, including head football coach Joe Paterno, had direct knowledge of the horrific acts perpetrated by former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, and failed to act accordingly.

Paterno, who lost his job and then his life following the lid being blown off the case last fall, was not charged with any crime. However, the court of public opinion has been critical of the legendary coach's role in the subsequent cover-up, despite his claims that he didn't quite grasp the gravity of the situation. Few people believe that, but his dedicated service to the institution that employed him for more than 60 years, and the thousands of young people he came in contact with, both on and off the football field, afforded him a certain degree of leeway.

In a letter written before his death but not released until earlier this week, Paterno defended the football program he spent the better part of his life building.

"This is not a football scandal and should not be treated as one. It is not an academic scandal and does not in any way tarnish the hard earned and well- deserved academic reputation of Penn State."

He continued to try and distance the football team from the swirling winds of controversy by adding, "Let me say that again so I am not misunderstood: regardless of anyone's opinion of my actions or the actions of the handful of administration officials in this matter, the fact is nothing alleged is an indictment of football or evidence that the spectacular collections of accomplishments by dedicated student athletes should be in anyway be tarnished."

Paterno's thoughts aside, there are many who feel that in addition to the individuals involved, the school too needs to be held accountable.

Penn State's Board of Trustees released a statement following Freeh's report going public, "Today's comprehensive report is sad and sobering in that it concludes that at the moment of truth, people in positions of authority and responsibility did not put the welfare of children first. The Board of Trustees, as the group that has paramount accountability for overseeing and ensuring the proper functioning and governance of the University, accepts full responsibility for the failures that occurred. The Board, in cooperation with the Administration, will take every action to ensure that events like these never happen again in our university community."

The statement went on to say, "As the Freeh Report notes 'Penn State is an outstanding institution, nationally renowned for its excellence in academics and research.' Nothing in the report detracts from the many significant accomplishments of our faculty, staff, students and alumni. We also remain proud of the accomplishments of Penn State's student athletes over many years, and we reaffirm the fundamental premise that academic excellence and athletic achievement are wholly consistent and complementary goals."

As for the NCAA, it recently said it will decide whether or not to take action against Penn State at the "appropriate time". The NCAA expects the university to respond to a formal inquiry at some point, although no time table has been given.

Whether or not the NCAA has a right to levy punishment against Penn State is the question, as there is no precedent set for its involvement in matters related to criminal activity. Simply put, criminal matters do not fall under the jurisdiction of the NCAA, so it would be a first if the governing body of all things related to college athletics were to act.

There is the letter of the law, and the spirit of the law -- only the latter of which could be implemented in this case. The NCAA certainly wants to invoke a feeling of institutional control, but you'd be hard-pressed to find an incident where it issued any kind of significant punishment against a school for violating rules outside of its [already] ridiculously strict guidelines.

Sure the NCAA can be petty, and oftentimes viewed as misguided in both its understanding of apparent violations and administration of penalties, but without rules and someone to enforce them, there would be chaos.

Still, it would be something of a surprise if the NCAA were to lower the boom on Penn State, even after the university offers up explanations regarding any apparent compliance issues, and/or its ethical obligations.

That's not to say the NCAA can't make an example out of Penn State, but without clear-cut evidence that the decisions made by Paterno and others had a direct impact on the football program, it would be out of character to do so.

The whole "institutional control" thing may be what the NCAA hangs its hat on when doling out a punishment here, but it's a shame that current coach Bill O'Brien and his players will be the ones to bear the brunt of the NCAA's wrath, making them yet another group of victims of this seemingly never-ending nightmare.