2013 - Special Issue
College Sport, University Governance, and Power Politics:
Through the Lens of Penn State
Events emanating from allegations of child sexual abuse by a former Penn State coach in November of 2011 have left a university divided, a state in turmoil, and the higher education community more generally under heightened scrutiny. While the situation at Penn State has its own unique cultural signature, the questions raised about the influence of sport on a university and beyond resonate across the higher education landscape.
The call for papers produced six articles offering various perspectives and analyses on the relationship between college sport and higher education in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Organized into three subsections, the first features two articles that address issues associated with presidential leadership and authority, the second focuses on higher education and the tensions around an increasing reliance on corporate relationships, and the third examines the influence of identity in shaping reactions to public scandals as well as steps institutions should take in first recognizing the potential for harms to vulnerable populations to occur.
The special issue begins with an analysis of the sanctions levied against Penn State by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) in July of 2012. In Rethinking Penn State Sanctions and Executive Authority, attorney Christian Dennie and former University of Oklahoma associate athletic director and researcher Gerald Gurney raise the question of whether the unprecedented actions taken in punishing Penn State have threatened the NCAA’s core values. They further explore the wisdom and propriety of NCAA president Mark Emmert’s use of executive authority in an effort to change the culture of big-time college sport. The authors offer a new model for adjudicating alleged rule violations that improves fairness to member institutions and accused professionals, while instilling greater public trust in the process.
As a companion to Dennie and Gurney’s piece, Jennifer Lee Hoffman offers in Big Time College Football and the Perils of Presidential Leadership insight into the challenges college and university presidents face in exerting authority over what she describes as the “gridiron marketplace”, which has the capacity to overwhelm institutional interests. Hoffman discusses factors affecting presidential leadership in athletics, including length of terms, perceived legitimacy of presidential leadership, and organizational ambiguity on individual campuses.
In Too Big to Fail: The Penn State Scandal, University of Kansas researcher Jordan Bass and his colleague Joshua Newman from The Florida State University consider what they refer to as the “Penn State crisis” as a “crisis of accumulation” that occurred within a larger spectacle produced by corporate and commercial interests in college sport. While Bass and Newman consider the health of higher education in light of ever increasing corporate pressures, Willis Jones at the University of Kentucky returned to another scandal, this one involving the cover up of the death of a men’s basketball player by a head coach at Baylor University, to explore the impact a scandal has on the overall health of an institution from the standpoint of admission applications, academic reputation, and gifts/contributions.
And finally, in the last section, Kutztown psychology professor Jason Lanter examines in “But It’s JoePa!” The Effects of Social Identification on Sport Fan Perceptions of the Penn State Case the perceptions of Penn State football fans toward events that eventually led to the firing of head football coach Joe Paterno. The final piece in this collection, entitled The Penn State Child Sexual Abuse Scandal: The Implications for Athletic Department Training, Policy, and Child Welfare System Interactions by Emmett Gill and Terrence Allen, professors of social work at North Carolina Central University, shifts the focus back to what administrators and coaches working in athletic departments need to know about child sex abuse. They make recommendations regarding policy development to protect child welfare.
Even as we write this, constituencies impacted by Jerry Sandusky’s abuse of young boys continue to pursue the truth in all of its iterations while NCAA officials, college and university officials, representatives of the media, and members of the Penn State family sort through the implications. This special issue, with its diverse set of authors coming from various academic disciplines (cultural studies, higher education, law, psychology, social work, sport management) and universities from around the United States, offers a few ways of advancing conversations on several fronts while affirming that these conversations will continue for a long time to come.
Co-editors for this special issue were Ellen J. Staurowsky, Professor, Sport Management, Drexel University and Chad Seifried, Associate Professor, Department of Kinesiology, Louisiana State University.
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Presidential Leadership & Authosrity
Rethinking Penn State Sanctions and Executive Authority
Christian Dennie - Barlow, Garsek and Simon, LLP
Gerald Gurney - University of Oklahoma
Pages 1 - 9
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Abandoning NCAA established enforcement procedures, President Mark Emmert, through powers granted to him by the NCAA Executive Committee, levied unprecedented sanctions on Pennsylvania State University. In the process, the NCAA required Penn State to sign a consent decree that forfeited any rights to appeal, or Penn State would face a four-year death penalty that would decimate its storied football program. Questions arise as to whether the circumstances at Penn State rose to the level of requiring NCAA Executive Committee action and specifically whether such indiscretions challenged NCAA core values, such as academics or athletics competition, and the propriety and wisdom of Emmert’s exercise of executive authority to change the culture of big time college sport. The authors offer a new model for adjudicating alleged rule violations that improves fairness to member institutions and accused professionals, while instilling greater public trust in the process.
Big Time College Football and the Perils of Presidential Leadership
Jennifer Hoffman - University of Washington
Pages 10 - 21
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Presidential control of National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) athletic programs with membership in the Football Bowl Series (FBS) Subdivision is constrained by a gridiron marketplace that favors winning and commercial interests. Presidents have a limited set of choices to navigate this marketplace while making decisions in athletics that also reflect the educational values of doctorate-granting institutions. Years of experience, the stage of legitimacy (Bornstein 2003), and the level of ambiguity in the campus environment (Cohen & March, 1974; 1986), all influence the individual and collective level of presidential control. The issue of presidential control at Penn State reminds us that the length of time of a presidency and the balance of power at the top are important indicators of decision-making. Average term of presidents and the composition of presidential cohort data is presented from secondary reports (ACE, 2012; Hoffman, 2012; Ross, Green, & Henderson, 1993; Cohen & March 1986; Cohen & March, 1974) and the IAL database. This data on presidential terms, ambiguity in the campus environment, and legitimacy of presidential leadership help illustrate their individual and collective power to act in favor of the gridiron marketplace or institutional interests.
Scandal With The Context of the Corporate University
Too Big to Fail: The Penn State Scandal
Jordan Bass - University of Kansas
Joshua I. Newman - The Florida State University
Pages 22 - 40
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In the fall of 2011, the Pennsylvania State University campus was rocked by a sexual abuse scandal involving former football defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. Details of the crimes and the multiple cover-ups by university officials shocked the nation. In this article, we first argue that more attention needs to be paid to the institutional hegemony the Nittany Lion football program had over the university, the town, the state, the Big Ten Conference, and the NCAA. We argue that the increasing corporatization of higher education and college athletics, at least, partially contributed to an organizational culture in which multiple individual actors were compelled to ignore signs of rampant sexual abuse happening on and around campus. Finally, we discuss the ways in which Penn State crisis, as a crisis of accumulation, is imbricated within a broader spectacle of corporatization and commercialization in intercollegiate athletics; and in so doing point to the role the media played in the construction and subsequent disruption of the Nittany Lion football empire.
Does Athletic Scandal Influence University Operational Health? A Quantitative Case Study of Baylor University
Willis A. Jones - University of Kentucky
Pages 41 - 57
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The purpose of this study was to explore the perceptions of National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I student-athletes (N= 43) regarding stereotypical cartoons about athletes. A qualitative approach, which included a visual elicitation technique, was utilized by administering the Lifestyle Association & Representation of Athletes Scale (LARAS). The LARAS explored participants’ perceptions of the following six specific concepts: a) academic support issues; b) academic progress; c) coaches as educators; d) professional sport aspirations; e) media identities, advertising, and representation; and f) cultural issues and recruiting. Five major themes emerged from participants’ perceptions: Big Sport Business, Athletic Image, College Athlete Mindset, Realistic/False Representation, and Institutional Focus. Goffman’s (1959) theory of social stigma and Loury’s (2002) theory on racial stigma are related to the perceptions revealed by the college student-athletes in this study. Implications and recommendations for sport scholars and practitioners are provided.
The Human Toll: Barriers to Recognizing Potential Harms
“But it’s Joe Pa!” The Effects of Social Identification on Sport Fan Perceptions of the Penn State Case
Jason R. Lanter - Kutztown University
Pages 58 - 69
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This study examined the attitudes of football fans towards the recent events at The Pennsylvania State University (Penn State). The child sexual abuse allegations at Penn State led to the firing of the long-time head football coach and resignation of the university president. Using a snowball sampling technique, participants completed an online questionnaire that assessed their identification with the Penn State football team and their attitudes towards Penn State, and the coach and president. The fans who were high-identified with the football team were expected to demonstrate more support for the actions of, and less perceived responsibility and blame for the coach and president than the low-identified fans. Furthermore, this greater support and decreased responsibility and blame was expected to be enhanced for the coach compared to the president because the coach was more directly linked to the football program. The results supported three of the four hypotheses and demonstrate how identification with a sports team influences perceptions about a scandal in intercollegiate athletics.
The Sandusky Child Sexual Abuse Scandal: The Implications for Athletic Department Procedures, Training, Policy, and Child Welfare System Interactions
Emmett L. Gill, Jr. - North Carolina Central University
Terrence Allen - North Carolina Central University
Pages 70 - 89
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The following is a narrative and critique of the Gerald A. Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal at Pennsylvania State University (Penn State). Using a convenience sample of regional and national media accounts, this manuscript summarizes the confirmed events of the Penn State sexual abuse controversy. This case study focuses on a) the child sexual abuse of three victims, b) the Penn State athletic department and university responses, and c) the interactions between Penn State and state and local child welfare systems. Next, the manuscript will present conceptual and analytical considerations related to the Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal including the perpetrators profile and grooming strategies as well as coaches power and morality. The practical implications for sport managers are presented and include recommendations for procedures, training, policy development, and interactions with child welfare systems.