Penn State University student Laura Lovins and fellow students react while watching a live broadcast of the announcement of the NCAA penalties

Even Freeh Group member realizes NCAA wrongly punished Penn St.


Gotham City (wrongly) believed in Harvey Dent.

Likewise, there are people who (wrongly) believed in NCAA president Mark Emmert.

The heavy sanctions levied by Emmert against Penn State in the aftermath of the Freeh report was a result of public pressure, the justification to satisfy our culture’s bloodlust and demand for instant gratification. Someone needed to get clobbered at Penn State; it didn’t matter who.

The report, a multi-million dollar project spanning eight months investigating Penn State’s (in)action into the Jerry Sandusky allegations, was designed to unearth exactly when and where university officials went wrong, as well as act as a recommendation for new university policy to prevent further malfeasance.

Instead, it became the basis for Emmert’s unprecedented ultimatum to interim PSU president Rodney Erickson: accept a $60 million fine, four-year postseason ban, scholarship reduction and five-year probation — not to mention vacated 111 vacated wins — or get the Death penalty. The whole process bypassed traditional NCAA investigative protocol so fast, it had SEC speed.

In this case, that was too fast. And that’s not just, like, my opinion, man. A member of the Freeh Group told The Chronicle of Higher Education that Emmert misused the Freeh report as a substitute for normal NCAA investigative steps. Below are just some of the quotes to the Chronicle:

  • “That document was not meant to be used as the sole piece, or the large piece, of the NCAA’s decision-making… It was meant to be a mechanism to help Penn State move forward. To be used otherwise creates an obstacle to the institution changing.”
  • The Freeh team reviewed how Penn State operated, not how they worked within the NCAA’s system… The NCAA’s job is to investigate whether Penn State broke its rules and whether it gained a competitive advantage in doing so.”
  • “The NCAA took this report and ran with it without further exploration.” 

Evidence of the NCAA’s rush to judgement is already tangible. While some coaches are claiming to take the high road of not actively recruiting Penn State players now free to transfer wherever they choose, others are much more open about it. Tennessee, USC, Illinois, Arizona and Kansas are among them.

That’s not a slight against any program pursuing a transfer — they’re doing exactly what they’re allowed to do — but in punishing Penn State officials’ criminal acts with athletic sanctions, the NCAA didn’t reprimanded the “football-first” culture in Happy Valley.

It pushed it elsewhere.

Would that have been avoided if the NCAA had gone through its traditional routine with a Notice of Inquiry, Notice of Allegations and Committee on Infractions hearing? Maybe not. The NCAA can only punish a program in so many ways because it lacks subpoena power. But at least there would have been another review, one the NCAA can directly point to as its own work rather than rely on another’s.

I’ve never been a fan of NCAA involvement with Penn State in this context, but I also realize it’s the governing body of over 300 Division 1 athletic departments. Something was inevitably going to be done.

Besides, the Sandusky story is one filled with missed opportunities and baffling dead ends to investigations that should have gone further. In an ironic twist, though, the NCAA dealt with a program that improperly shifted power to one individual by inflicting punishment in a similar fashion.

Now, anything’s possible with the NCAA outside its normal authority.

Believe it.

Was Washington loss the beginning of the end of the Steve Sarkisian era at USC?

Steve Sarkisian
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Steve Sarkisian’s win totals in his six previous seasons are both a positive and a negative.

On one hand, he resurrected a moribund Washington program that went 0-12 under Ty Willingham in 2008 and took them to four consecutive bowl games from 2010-2013. He won nine games his last year in Seattle, then led a talented-yet-thin USC team to a nine-win season and AP No. 20 finish in 2014.

Those are good accomplishments. But the flip side of the argument is Sarkisian has never won double-digit games in a season, something that’s a necessity to keep one’s job at USC. The Trojans’ 17-12 loss to Washington last night — at home, no less — means the road to 10 wins and a Pac-12 title will be awfully difficult.

And worse yet, there are plenty of arguments to be made Sarkisian doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt and a little more time in Los Angeles to turn things around (#SarkAfterDark, his drunken rant at a booster event, certainly doesn’t help). The reaction from national media to last night’s loss looked like this:

Mandel, in his column, argued USC is right where it was two years ago with Lane Kiffin as its coach. And there’s this embarrassing thought, that looks more and more like a truth, for Pat Haden:

This one, however, was the most damning by far for many reasons, most notably that it came at the hands of Sarkisian’s old team. The sense among many Washington fans nearly two years ago was that the Huskies managed to upgrade coaches when the school lured Chris Petersen from Boise State upon Sarkisian’s departure to USC.

They were right.

USA Today’s Dan Wolken similarly wrote that USC needs to drop Sarkisian and bring in Chip Kelly from the Philadelphia Eagles.

This is the state of USC, and it may not get better. The Trojans start a brutal three-game stretch next Saturday at Notre Dame in primetime, then welcome Utah to Los Angeles the next week. A Halloween trip to Berkeley to face Jared Goff and Cal finishes it up. There’s a very real chance USC, for all its talent and all its hype, limps into November with a 4-4 or 3-5 record.

Sarkisian will have to engineer and sustain a major turnaround in these coming weeks, otherwise he’ll give Haden all the ammo he needs to unceremoniously jettison him after two years.

Starting Navy S Kwazel Bertrand undergoes surgery, likely out for season

Kwazel Bertrand, Jacobi Owens
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Navy has seen one of its most productive players on the defensive side of the ball play for perhaps the final time this season.

Kwazel Bertrand sustained a broken ankle in the win over Air Force last Saturday, head coach Ken Niumatalolo confirmed earlier this week. As a result, the defensive back will very likely miss the remainder of the 2015 season.

And, because he is a senior and has no other eligibility avenues to pursue, it would effectively end his collegiate career as well.

“I feel terrible for Kwazel. It’s really unfortunate any time a senior goes down with a season-ending injury,” Niumatalolo said. “Kwazel has been a really good player for us and we’re going to miss his presence out on the field.”

Bertrand started 27 games over the past three-plus seasons, including all four in 2015.