HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — The NCAA is defending how it handled sanctions against Penn State over the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal, following the recent release of internal emails that were exchanged before the 2012 consent decree.
The circumstances under which the unprecedented penalties were imposed have been a target of criticism, and the new emails reflect doubts within the NCAA about whether they were legal or fair. In one of the emails, an NCAA official characterized the disciplinary approach to Penn State as "a bluff" and said asserting its jurisdiction would be "a stretch."
The college sports governing body said Thursday it would not comment about the emails beyond a one-paragraph statement, saying the correspondence showed "debate and thorough consideration" before the 2012 consent decree.
"The national office staff routinely provides information and counsel to the membership on tough issues," the NCAA said previously. "The NCAA carefully examined its authority and responsibility to act in response to the athletics department's role .... Ultimately, advised by all information gathered, the Executive Committee determined to act and move forward with the Consent Decree."
The consent decree required Penn State to pay a $60 million fine and imposed a temporary bowl ban and the elimination of 112 football team wins from the later years under former head coach Joe Paterno.
The emails were disclosed earlier this week in a court filing as part of a dispute over how much material the NCAA has to turn over to state Sen. Jake Corman and Treasurer Rob McCord, who sued to keep the fine money within Pennsylvania to address child abuse.
The NCAA has since said it would allow the money to stay within the state, but the case has morphed into a wider look at the legality of the consent decree. On Wednesday the state Supreme Court declined the NCAA's effort to prevent the case from going to trial, as scheduled, in early January.
Penn State Trustee Anthony Lubrano said Thursday the new email excerpts showed him "that the NCAA believed that they lacked the authority to act."
"The NCAA fought very hard to avoid this trial," Lubrano said. "If you're watching this carefully, you must conclude that they had a reason for it, and I think you're seeing some of that reason, vis-a-vis these emails."
Trustee Alice Pope said the emails make skeptics of the consent decree "all the more curious to know what else we don't know, and we're going to wait and see what the discovery process brings."
Penn State's president and board chairman said Wednesday they were deeply disturbed to see evidence the NCAA leadership was considering bluffing a member institution. Trustee Bob Jubelirer expressed similar sentiments Thursday, and said he was looking to see what else might come out.
"The handwriting on the wall is clearly that the consent agreement and the sanctions are going to be invalidated," Jubelirer said.
The decree was signed by then-university president Rodney Erickson in July 2012, shortly after the university received the results of an investigation into how the Sandusky child molestation matter was handled by school officials.
The NCAA recently ended the bowl ban and restored football scholarships earlier than scheduled. It has not changed the elimination of the 112 wins.
Sandusky, the former assistant football coach, is serving a prison sentence on child sex abuse convictions.