Penn State Scandal Raises Questions About Discipline for Student Athletes
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — A Penn State administrator responsible for overseeing student discipline said former coach Joe Paterno did not have the authority to change his office's decisions when football players were sanctioned.
Joe Puzycki said Tuesday night in an email to The Associated Press that "we adjudicated athlete cases the same as we did any other student" — though Paterno was vocal in sharing his opinions.
The interactions outlined by Puzycki, currently a university assistant vice president, offer a contrasting view to comments made by former student affairs vice president Vicki Triponey, to whom Puzycki once reported. Triponey said Paterno's players got in trouble more often than other students, and got special treatment compared to non-athletes.
"In some cases where Mr. Paterno disagreed with our handling of a situation he would openly articulate that position to me. This position in itself, though, never changed my or my staff's decisions," Puzycki told the AP. "Mr. Paterno in his position as a coach simply did not have the authority to change any of our decisions. That could only be done through formal student appeal or administrative review."
Triponey resigned her post as the university's standards and conduct officer in 2007. Reached by the AP at her home in Charleston, S.C., Triponey confirmed that she sent a 2005 email to then-president Graham Spanier and others in which she expressed her concerns about how Penn State handled discipline cases involving football players. The Wall Street Journal published excerpts from the email on Tuesday.
The email surfaced as Penn State is reeling in the aftermath of criminal charges filed this month against Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant football coach accused of molesting eight boys, some on campus, over a 15-year period.
Paterno "is insistent he knows best how to discipline his players ... and their status as a student when they commit violations of our standards should NOT be our concern ... and I think he was saying we should treat football players different from other students in this regard," Triponey wrote in the Aug. 12, 2005, email.
"Coach Paterno would rather we NOT inform the public when a football player is found responsible for committing a serious violation of the law and/or our student code," she wrote, "despite any moral or legal obligation to do so."
The Sandusky scandal resulted in the firing of Paterno, whom trustees felt did not do enough about one accusation involving a 10-year-old boy. President Graham Spanier also departed under pressure.
Athletic Director Tim Curley has been placed on administrative leave, and Vice President Gary Schultz, who was in charge of the university's police department, has stepped down. Schultz and Curley are charged with lying to a grand jury and failing to report to police, and Sandusky is charged with 40 counts of child sex abuse. All maintain their innocence.
Triponey told the AP there was "an ongoing debate" throughout her four years at Penn State over who should deal with misconduct by football players.
Her 2005 email was sent the day after a heated meeting in which Paterno complained about the discipline process.
"He knew better than anyone how to discipline them. We wanted to show him the (disciplinary) data and suggest that 'Well, whatever it is we're doing, it's not working.' They're getting into trouble at a greater rate than they should. We wanted to find a way to address that," she said. "The meeting ended up being a one- sided conversation with the coach talking about his frustrations, his anger, his not being happy with the way we were running the system."
Paterno's lawyer, Wick Sollers, defended his client in a written statement.
"The allegations that have been described are out of context, misleading and filled with inaccuracies," he said. "In the current atmosphere, it is not surprising that every aspect of Penn State University's academics and athletics will be reviewed."
Puzycki was the school's chief disciplinary officer, reporting to Triponey. He has since been promoted to a position in which he oversees the current Director of Judicial Affairs.
"I think it is important ... that as we move forward as an institution that we need to provide accurate information," he wrote.
Puzycki told the AP he did not recall Paterno saying that players should be treated differently than other students, "but he was clear to express his disapproval, in general, of my handling of cases involving football players." He said Paterno would express that he thought he could do a better job holding players accountable, given his role as coach.
Puzycki said he could site just two cases in his 10-plus years as judicial affairs chief in which changes were made to disciplinary decisions — each time by superiors.
One was an off-campus fight involving about a dozen players in 2007, in which he said Spanier intervened; the other involved an unidentified player who was kicked off the team. Puzycki said that sanction was lessened by Triponey, who told the Journal she had been directed to do so by Spanier.
Penn State football has long been regarded as an example of a well-run program that graduates an above-average percentage of its players while operating within the rules and winning on the field. But the Sandusky case has forced a re-examination of the Nittany Lions and Paterno's 46-year tenure as coach.
A review of Associated Press stories over the last decade shows at least 35 Penn State players faced internal discipline or criminal charges between 2003-09 for a variety of offenses ranging from assault to drunk driving to marijuana possession. One player was acquitted of sexual assault.
Penn State has hired former FBI director Louis Freeh to lead an internal investigation of the Sandusky case, while the NCAA announced last Friday it was launching its own inquiry focused on Sandusky and whether Penn State exercised "institutional control" in handling accusations against him. Asked Tuesday whether other disciplinary cases at Penn State would be reviewed, an NCAA spokeswoman said she had nothing else to say at this time.
Triponey, who arrived at Penn State in 2003 — four years after Sandusky retired and a year following an alleged assault by him in the football showers — told ESPN's "Outside the Lines" she was not involved in any conversations with or about the former assistant coach.
She told the AP that pressure to go easier on football players increased as her tenure went on.
"Many times, (because of) the pressure placed on us by the president or the football coach, eventually, we would end up doing sanctions that were not what another student would've got," she said. "It was much less. It was adapted to try to accommodate the concerns of the coach."
Triponey said she's a longtime football fan and worked at universities for most of her career. She said the relationship with coaches was different at other places, citing Randy Edsall, whom she worked with at Connecticut, as an example of someone who ran an open program and helped his players learn from mistakes. Edsall is now head coach at Maryland.
Curley and Spanier did not reply to messages for comment. A representative for Curley told the Journal that "he tried to make sure all student athletes were treated equally with regard to the code of conduct."
Adcox reported from Charleston, S.C.