In light of the recent child sexual abuse scandal at Penn State, there are two reactions that come to my mind: I have no reason to believe that anything like the abuse committed by Jerry Sandusky is currently taking place within Stanford’s athletic program, and I also have no reason to believe the Farm is completely immune from such atrocities.
Earlier this week, the sports world was sent reeling by the NCAA’s sanctions on Penn State. It’s hard to imagine being an alumnus of a school that won’t be allowed to go to a bowl game or even field a full team for four years.
But it’s even harder to imagine that those sanctions would be prompted by atrocities at State College, Penn., home to a school that was, as recently as a year ago, believed to have one of the last “clean” athletic programs in the country. Last June, the Wall Street Journal reported that only four major-conference schools—Penn State, Boston College, Northwestern and, yes, Stanford—had never received sanctions from the NCAA for a major rules violation. Now, after at least 15 years of abuse by Sandusky, that distinction is a lot harder to take pride in.
What we do know for sure is that this scandal is going to change the way we look at college sports, on the Farm and elsewhere. Take this example: just over two months ago, I wrote that Stanford needed a football coach or athletic director who would stick around for the long haul and become the face of the Cardinal athletic program. How does that thought seem now, after the NCAA concluded that an overwhelming “hero-worship” of longtime head coach Joe Paterno was at the heart of the Penn State scandal?
It would be fair to say that Andrew Luck inspired some “hero-worship” at Stanford, but not of the same variety. Since athletes stick around for only a few years, they don’t inspire the same intimidation as generation-spanning figures like Paterno.
Another way to gauge an athletic program’s ability to prevent illegal actions is through its compliance office. In condemning Penn State’s administration, the Freeh Report also noted that the athletic department’s compliance office was “significantly understaffed,” and the Nittany Lions’ website lists just one dedicated compliance employee on its athletic department directory. Athletic compliance offices generally focus on maintaining NCAA and conference regulations, but the Freeh Report implies that departmental offices still must “oversee institutional compliance with laws,” especially in the absence of a centralized university entity to that end.
Similarly, even though the abuse at Penn State is a much more severe form of evil than any NCAA violation that has occurred to date, the cover-up that took place within that university demonstrated a dangerous dedication to winning, not all that different than the fallout of major recruiting infractions in the past. Accordingly, the strength of a compliance office can tell us a lot about the likelihood of criminal actions within an athletic department. So how strong is ours?
Stanford does have a campus-wide Institutional Compliance Program, and there are five Department of Athletics employees devoted to compliance; according to their respective online staff directories, the average size of athletic compliance offices at other Pac-12 schools is just slightly larger, at 5.5. Yet with 35 Cardinal varsity teams, there are seven Stanford squads for each compliance employee, which is the largest such figure in the conference and twice the average.
Still, keep in mind that Stanford is the sole Pac-12 program without a major NCAA violation and one of only four schools in the conference that has been clean since 2000. USC, whose 11-employee compliance office is the largest in the Pac-12, has been through its fair share of trouble with the NCAA in recent years, so larger compliance staffs can also be an indicator of past misdeeds—bigger isn’t always better.
But given that Stanford’s compliance group is larger than Penn State’s minimal staff, the Cardinal’s clean record seems to hint at the staff’s effectiveness at educating coaches and players and casts doubt on any suggestion of major administrative negligence. Though we should always be wary, the protections seem to be in place here to prevent a cover-up of Penn State’s proportions.
Joseph Beyda has tremendous faith in the Stanford community and hopes that no such evil will ever happen at Stanford. Share your hope with him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said the Nittany Lions would be unable to appear on TV. This penalty was discussed but never implemented.