Summary: In 1969, Jerry Sandusky starts his coaching career at Penn State University as a defensive line coach for the Nittany Lions football team (ESPN). Eight years later Sandusky founds The Second Mile, a group foster home dedicated to helping troubled boys that grows into a charity dedicated to helping children with absent or dysfunctional families (Kim, S). In the fall of 2000, janitor James Calhoun observes Sandusky and victim 8 in the showers, no reports are made.
Less than two years later, in March 2002, the first report against Sandusky is filed with head coach Joe Paterno and the athletic director, Tim Curley. PatriotNews reports that grand jury is investigating Sandusky or allegations of indecent assault against a teenage boy- Penn State declines to comment on the report. On November 5, 2011 Sandusky is arrested and released on a $100,000 bail after being arraigned on 40 criminal counts (ESPN). The University’s board of trustees rule to remove Paterno, and University President Graham Spanier, effective immediately on November 9th (S).
On July 23, 2012, the NCAA announced the following sanctions against Penn State: five year probation, four-year postseason ban, vacating of all wins from 1998 to 2011, $60 million fine which the proceeds were to go towards an endowment for preventing child abuse, loss of a total 40 initial scholarships from 2013 to 2017, required to adopt all reform recommendations from Freech report, and enter into an “athletics integrity agreement” (NCAA President Mark Emmert).
Analysis: Every organization, company, or school in vulnerable to a crisis. A situation that threatens to harm individuals or property, seriously interrupt business, negatively impact the bottom line, or in this case, seriously damage the reputation. While no person or company can foresee a crisis, how the crisis is handled is what will affect the organization the most in the long run.
Things done well: Penn State took immediate action in removing Sandusky from the University’s image, and isolating the origin of the crisis, by officially banning Sandusky from campus on November 6th (ESPN), removing him from the mural near the university and renaming a local ice cream flavor that had been created in his honor (Pioneer Press). As allegations rose that Head coach Joe Paterno, University President Graham Spanier, Athletic Director Tim Curley, and Assistant coach Mike McQueary knew about Sandusky’s actions and had failed to report them, all members were ousted as well (USA today).
By properly and continuously identifying the crisis, the University was able to determine the extent and decide on the appropriate next steps. Four days after Sandusky’s arrest the University’s board of trustee’s rule to remove Paterno and Spanier effective immediately, while placing McQueary on indefinite paid administrative leave. The University did not stop there with removing the football coaches from the school’s image. The Statue of Paterno was removed from outside of Beaver Stadium on July 22, 2012, in hopes to limit division and promote healing on and off campus (Deadspin).
While the Paterno Library on campus remained as a tribute to the commitment to Penn State’s student body and academic success, while highlighting the positive impacts Paterno had on the university. This was important for Penn State to distinguish the two, as the statue represented the coaching staff and the problems facing the football team, while the keeping the library named signified putting the student before the athletes in student-athletes.
Penn State’s proactive responses helped to mitigate the crisis further. Trustee Kenneth Frazier announced from the board that they would be hiring Louis Freech, former director of the FBI, to lead a separate internal investigation on the University’s actions. The Freech report was released to the board of trustees and the police simultaneously, without being reviewed by the school’s general counsel’s office (Penn State Live).
By establishing and providing a separate internal investigation, Penn State showed a commitment to justice being served; more evidence could have surfaced further damaging the University, but they did the investigation anyways in hope to uncover all the information and actions surrounding the scandal. Following the announcement of the internal investigation, new University President Rodney Erickson traveled for a week to speak with alumni in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and New York in an attempt to repair the university’s image and speak directly with concerned alum (USA Today).
In all of this, Penn State spent $3. 2 million on internal investigations, public relations, legal advice, crisis management advice, and the removal of the mural image and statue. When releasing this information, the University launched a new website openness. psu. edu specifically to promote the transparency of where the funds were coming from, and what they were being spent on (Warner, D). On this website it stated that no money used in the investigation would come from tuition, state grants, or donations, and would be solely paid by insurance and the interest earnings from the athletic department (Warner, D).
Finally, while Penn State attempted to quickly and proactively increase reputation management, the University also took all punishments and criticism with grace. When the NCAA announced the sanctions against the football team, the school, and coach Paterno, President Erickson quickly and quietly accepted all of them. Erickson did not dismiss, fight, or publicly announce the sanctions given to Penn State until after the acceptance had been finalized (Minemeyer, C). By doing so, it again showed Penn State’s acceptance of the wrong-doing, and willingness to do whatever it takes to make the situation better.
Things not done well: The first mistake made by Penn State was denying the first comment in March 2011 from Patriot-News, reporting that grand just is investigating Sandusky on allegations of indecent assault of a teenage boy (ESPN). The University should have provided at least some comment involving such a serious matter. While communication increased between the University and media once Sandusky was arrested, there was still mixed reports on messages sent out the days surrounding the removal of the Joe Paterno statue outside Beaver Stadium (Deadspin).
The lack of facts and decisions from the board of trustee’s irritated the student body and alum. With an already sensitive student body, the University failed to alert local police and campus security prior to announcing the firing of Joe Paterno on live television. Following the announcement 10,000 students rioted in the streets causing $200,000 worth of damages and 47 reported injuries (Sarenio, M). A few days later it became clear that the University had made another mistake in controlling the crisis, when Paterno released his own statement without going through the University.
Penn State had failed to make a crisis plan and did not have a designated speaking plan, causing the University to be in a reactive position again, instead of remaining proactive. Recommendations: According to Konrad Palubicki from Edelman Digital, there are five crucial stages to crisis management; prepare in advance, isolate the origin, evaluate the impact, mitigate the crisis, and learn from the crisis. I would highly recommend that Penn State create a crisis management plan for future scandals or utbreaks involving the University. While no one could have prepared for the Sandusky scandal, having a list of crisis team members and contact information may have kept Paterno from releasing his own statements. Also in creating a plan in advance could help evaluate impact better, and take necessary steps in downsizing the impact. Penn State should have warned local police officials, school officials, and campus security before announcing Paterno’s firing on live television.
While this would not have eliminated the riots, it could have prevented the amount of damages and number or injuries occurred. I would recommend having this list of contacts under “In Case of Emergency” in the crisis management plan. It is hard to suggest an improvement in response time when the first allegation came out in March 2002, and Sandusky was not arrested until November 2011, but it was not reported properly through the school or to the police.
The situation should have been immediately reported and dealt with, but once properly reported Penn State did take action in a timely manner. I would have recommended Penn State to have comment on the Patriot-News report in 2011 involving the investigation against Sandusky; even if it was only to say they recognize the situation, are working on it, and the few facts beyond that are known at the moment. The kept up with updates as more facts develop.