In the wake of the scandal at Penn State, the Big Ten Conference is considering a plan to give its commissioner the power to punish schools with financial sanctions, suspensions and even the ability to fire coaches.
An 18-page plan being circulated among Big Ten leadership raises the possibility of giving Commissioner Jim Delany such authority, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported Thursday. The plan, which the Chronicle posted online, suggests that in certain circumstances requiring “immediate and decisive action,” the commissioner would have unilateral authority to “take any and all actions” in the best interest of the Big Ten.
The league declined comment when contacted by The Associated Press for comment on the plan titled “Standards and Procedures for Safeguarding Institutional Control of Intercollegiate Athletics.”
“It is a working document intended to generate ideas, not draw conclusions,” according to an email sent from Big Ten headquarters to people in the league. “One provision in the document addresses ‘emergency authority of the commissioner’ – it is just one of many ideas.”
Former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was recently convicted of sexually abusing 10 boys, sometimes on campus. A report commissioned by Penn State said school leaders, including the late coach Joe Paterno, ignored allegations more than a decade ago to avoid bad publicity, allowing Sandusky to prey on other boys for years. Paterno’s family said he never participated in an attempt to cover up wrongdoing.
The NCAA and U.S. Education Department are investigating Penn State for potential rules and policy violations; the issue of “institutional control” is believed to be a key part of the NCAA probe, since problems there can lead to athletic penalties. The Chronicle said the Big Ten is still discussing how to handle fallout from the scandal at one of its member schools; currently, its 12-member Council of Presidents and Chancellors must approve any decision to suspend or expel one of the league’s schools.
Whether Delany would ever be granted the power to fire coaches or punish schools was unknown. The Big Ten email said the council would have to approve such a sweeping change.
Minnesota President Eric Kaler said he doubts that individual schools would be willing to give up control to the conference on such an issue of firing a coach. Still, Kaler said it’s important for Big Ten leaders to sharpen their standards.
“The Penn State situation has highlighted again the vulnerabilities of institutions to bad behavior in their athletic departments,” Kaler said in a phone interview with the AP.
Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon said the scandal has school presidents and ADs looking at ways to improve oversight and control.
“A lot of things have been discussed, but I have not been party to any conversation that would suggest the commissioner would have unilateral power to fire coaches,” Brandon told the AP. “That’s kind of out of left field, and I don’t think the commissioner would want that kind of power. But what sounds reasonable to me is to create a mechanism in which the commissioner along with a committee of presidents and athletic directors had more oversight and control.”
Illinois Chancellor Phyllis Wise called the Penn State scandal “unprecedented” and wasn’t sure what the Big Ten will do.
“Since the document related to the issue is in draft form, I don’t know what it will say when it’s finalized,” she said.
Illini athletic director Mike Thomas called the proposal “a work in progress.”
“I don’t know the exact language but I know there was some language in there related to personnel matters and consequences, should there be issues of a certain magnitude that requires action,” Thomas said.
Thomas wasn’t prepared to endorse the idea of coaches or other officials potentially being fired by the commissioner.
“Generally I’m supportive of a concept that might include different safeguards and controls and best practices,” he said.
The idea was brought up at SEC media days, where Commissioner Mike Slive said simply: “I really make it my business not to discuss other people’s issues.”
Mississippi athletic director Ross Bjork said such a move would need study, saying “I don’t think anyone has proposed anything like that before in college athletics.”
Georgia coach Mark Richt said he didn’t see a problem with giving a league commissioner such power.
“I would think the commissioner is going to do what’s in the best interest of the league, in the best interest of the people involved,” he said. “I would say for him to have the right to do that, for her to have the right to do that, is fine. Doesn’t mean they have to, but they would have the right to do that. It’s just one more check and balance in a system that certainly — I would just say it would make sense to me.”
Richard Katz, a sports agent whose clients include college coaches in the Big 12 and SEC, didn’t like the idea of conference commissioner being able to fire a coach.
“It could present substantial legal and other problems with regard to the employment contracts that coaches have with the universities,” said Katz, whose KMG Sports Management is based in Cincinnati.