The sexual abuse scandal at Michigan State University has been a vast human tragedy, a disgrace to the university and a confirmation of the need to erect stronger safeguards to protect students from abuse. It is also thunderous proof that the NCAA, the national governing body for college athletics, has no intention of acting to make sure such ghastly crimes don’t happen again.
Larry Nassar will spend the rest of his life in prison for sexually assaulting scores of victims. They include members of the women’s softball, volleyball, gymnastics, rowing, track and field and cross-country teams at Michigan State, where he was a professor and team physician. At his sentencing hearing in January, more than 150 women and girls attested to how they were violated by Nassar, who was also a physician for the U.S. national women’s gymnastics team. Michigan State agreed to pay $500 million to compensate victims.
In January, the NCAA informed the university it was conducting an investigation into Michigan State’s role in Nassar’s crimes, which it said “raise serious concerns about institutional practices, student-athlete safety and the institution’s actions to protect individuals from his behavior.” It noted that members are obligated to uphold “the principle of protecting student-athlete well-being, including health and safety,” and faulted the school for not providing the NCAA with relevant information about the case.
But a mild tongue-lashing was all the organization could bring itself to inflict. Last week, it notified Michigan State Athletic Director Bill Beekman of its conclusion that “violations of NCAA legislation did not occur.” It also found no violations in its inquiry into the handling of sexual assault complaints against Michigan State football and basketball players.
It’s worth remembering that over two decades, at least eight victims told at least 14 university officials about Nassar’s transgressions, to no avail. Among the 14 was President Lou Anna Simon, in 2014. MSU officials failed to act even after seeing Penn State University justly vilified for not responding to reports of child molestation by assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.
The NCAA imposed sanctions on Penn State. But it reduced them under challenge, fearing it might not be able to prove that the conduct of university officials violated any specific rule. The logical next step was to draft new rules to ensure that institutions would be held accountable if they did not investigate, report or punish such crimes. But the NCAA apparently decided it was better to leave itself without the tools to sanction member schools when they refuse to safeguard the health and safety of student athletes.
This is a body that has suspended student athletes for such petty infractions as taking part in a fantasy football league and accepting discount tattoos. But when students are sexually assaulted by a university employee and the university ignores complaints against him, the school evades responsibility.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE