Trustees Hear from Gene Marsh
On Friday morning, before their regular bimonthly meeting, Penn State trustees had a seminar session that was lightly attended by the public and, as far as I could tell, not attended at all by the news media. The reason I think none of the media were there is that I had the media table all to myself.
I don’t think the topics for the seminar were published in advance, which is an area of transparency that I hope eventually gets addressed. (Certainly the fact that the session was open to the public is a step in the right direction.) It turns out that it was essentially a training session for the trustees: Half of it focused on mandatory-reporting laws regarding child abuse, and the other half—led by Gene Marsh—on NCAA regulations.
I’ll say more about the NCAA part momentarily, because I was there for that segment. I must confess to ducking out early in the child-abuse session, because I needed to drive home and get a power cable for my laptop and a bite to eat before the afternoon session. I regret missing the child-abuse part, because there’s a lot that I—and all of us, really—need to learn about child sexual abuse. For example, did you know that the legal age of consent in Pennsylvania is 13? A 13-year-old can legally give consent to have sexual contact— as long as it’s with a 13-, 14-, 15-, or 16-year-old. If I understand correctly, if the one person is under 16 and the other person is four or more years older, then that older person is guilty of statutory sexual assault, among other crimes.
Anyway, the training that the trustees went through, led by Penn State associate VP for human resources Susan Basso, is the same training that all Penn State employees eventually will be required to undergo. And it’s not just the legal stuff; the speakers also talked about the warning signs and other issues. So I hope to become conversant with all of this soon.
I figured that the Gene Marsh segment would focus on the NCAA sanctions, but it didn’t (except during the Q&A—more on this later). Instead he gave the trustees a rundown on the NCAA rules, especially those governing “boosters,” which is pretty much anyone who has an interest in a school. You and I are boosters in the NCAA’s eyes, and so are the trustees. And there are many, many rules governing how much contact we can have with student-athletes or recruits, whether we can buy them lunch, whether we can lend them money, and so on.
Marsh, a retired law professor at the University of Alabama, served on the NCAA Division 1 infractions committee from 1999–2008 and chaired that committee for a time. Penn State hired him to help deal with the sanctions process in July. A few highlights of his presentation:
—He’s no fan of the NCAA rulebook, which he says you would enjoy reading about as much as you’d enjoy reading a phone book. He said it reflects “a world gone mad” and “a complete lack of trust—institution to institution, coach to coach.”
—He went through some well-known and less-well-known infractions cases, including a sobering one: a player-eligibility scandal at St. Bonaventure in 2003 in which the chair of the board of trustees committed suicide.
—Trustee Anthony Lubrano ’82 asked about the University of North Carolina academic-fraud case, in which the NCAA last month said it found no evidence of rules violations. Marsh’s response: “First, have you considered any of the news media reports about Penn State to be unfair?” After the trustees chuckled at that, he added, “Use that same concept when you read about a matter at another school.” He recommended a Sept. 7 article by the Chronicle of Higher Education‘s Brad Wolverton that refutes some of the allegations against UNC. The link is here, though I think you might need a Chronicle subscription to read it.
—Marsh said some tougher rules are coming—look for an announcement in October—and that “postseason bans will become far more common than they are now.”
—Trustee Alvin Clemens ’51 asked whether Penn State has ever had NCAA sanctions. Though the university had never had a major violation before the current crisis, it’s had its share of secondary violations. “Secondaries” are more minor infractions, like a coach talking about a recruit before he or she has signed a letter of intent, or a coach having inadvertent contact with a recruit outside of the official contact periods. Schools typically self-report these, Marsh said, and some schools report dozens of them every year. “The NCAA views with great suspicion any school that doesn’t regularly turn in secondaries,” Marsh said.
—Marsh says that the ultra-high standard to which Penn State is now being held will soon become the norm for all schools. “The remedial steps [Penn State must take] will be a blueprint for the NCAA,” he said. “I don’t know if that makes you feel better, or worse.”
—Related to this, trustee Joel Myers ’61, ’63g, ’71g asked how many other schools are operating under an Athletic Integrity Agreement of the sort that Penn State signed as part of the sanctions. None, Marsh said. “Seems like we’re operating up here,” Myers said, gesturing with his hand, “and the others are down here.” Marsh’s answer: “I think the others are going to get there very quickly. Some are actively implementing [similar agreements], because it’s a train that’s coming.”
—When the questions turned to Penn State’s acceptance of the NCAA sanctions, Marsh got a little impatient. “I’ve talked to you folks four times about this,” he said. “Anyone who wants to use the word ‘negotiation’ [in regard to the university’s conversations with the NCAA] doesn’t have a clue.”
Incidentally, Marsh spoke about the NCAA sanctions at the trustees’ special Sunday-evening meeting on Aug. 12. He talked in some detail at the beginning of that meeting about Penn State’s interactions with the NCAA in July. You can listen to the audio of that meeting here.
Tina Hay, editor