In early June, three former Penn State University administrators were sentenced to prison terms in connection with the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal. For the former PSU president, the senior VP for finance and business, and the athletic director, the jail terms are for only a few months, but they were also penalized with probation, fines, and house arrest. While their time served behind bars will likely be in a minimum security prison, their loss of freedom will be a harsh reminder of their wrongdoing. The three former administrators were sentenced for failing to report and investigate a 2001 allegation that assistant football coach Sandusky was molesting young boys.
Now another shoe has dropped on the college athletic scene with the NCAA’s imposition of penalties leveled against the University of Louisville and its men’s basketball coach, Rick Pitino. After completing its investigation of Katrina Powell’s allegations that she and other escorts were hired to have sex parties for Louisville recruits and players, antics the NCAA described as “repugnant,” it benched Coach Pitino for five conference games while imposing several other penalties including vacating wins in which ineligible players participated, placing the basketball program on four years’ probation, and issuing a 10-year show-cause order for Louisville’s former basketball operations director.
When the allegations surfaced several months back, Louisville hired a compliance consultant who estimated that over the years 108 regular season games and approximately 15 NCAA tournament wins could be affected, including the Cardinals’ 2013 national championship. The University has said it is appealing the sanctions. Pitino has denied any knowledge of the sex parties occurring under his watch.
As reported in a piece posted on The Compliance and Ethics Blog earlier this year, a former St. Louis Cardinals’ scouting director, Chris Correa, received a prison sentence of nearly four years after pleading guilty to charges in connection with the hacking of the database of the Cardinals’ rival, the Houston Astros. And if that were not bad enough, the Cardinals were fined $2 million in damages by Major League Baseball, along with the loss of their first two picks in the 2017 draft. Correa was also ordered to pay $279,038 in restitution.
While sports organizations in the U.S., especially those at the professional, university, and Olympic levels are highly visible and have an outsized economic impact, most share a common shortcoming. Few have developed effective, enterprise-wide, compliance programs similar to the ones in most industries designed to prevent small problems from growing into large ones. Even when a sports organization has a compliance program and/or a hotline on paper, too often the effort seems to fall short of the athletic department.
In the scandals mentioned above, had the wrongdoings been reported earlier, it is likely they would have been investigated and dealt with before matters got out of hand. The painful scenes unfolding before us illustrate yet again things have to go very wrong before some organizations will do the right thing.