• Read the Big Ten proposal on the Chronicle of High Education's website.
LINCOLN — Bo Pelini and other Big Ten coaches need not worry yet that their jobs rest in the hands of conference commissioner Jim Delany.
And it's too soon for Penn State's maintenance crews to start painting over the Big Ten logos on campus.
Both possibilities were raised Thursday in news reports citing a leaked document from the conference office.
But the Big Ten is not poised to give Delany the authority to fire coaches, nor has it discussed whether to oust Penn State, said University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Harvey Perlman, who serves on the conference's governing board, its council of Presidents and Chancellors.
“These reports are at best misleading,” Perlman said via email Thursday. “There has been absolutely no discussion among Big Ten presidents or with the commissioner about ousting Penn State from the conference.”
However, the Big Ten document published by the Chronicle of Higher Education on Thursday showed the conference's governing board has been considering a concept that would give it the power to sanction and even fire rogue coaches and other university athletic department officials in cases when an institution's control of its athletic department had broken down.
And “in circumstances ... requiring immediate and decisive action,” Delany would be granted “unilateral authority to take any and all actions” he reasonably believed necessary. Those actions would have to be reviewed and approved by the council as soon as possible.
The authority to dismiss a member university's athletic personnel is among a number of ideas discussed in an 18-page document prepared at the council's request in the wake of the sex abuse scandal at Penn State University. The document offers standards and procedures to ensure that intercollegiate athletic programs are run for the benefit of their home universities — and not the other way around.
If enacted, future contracts between Big Ten members and their coaches and athletic personnel would be required to include a provision making them subject to Big Ten sanctions in case of misconduct.
The Chronicle report also said the conference might have the authority to kick out Penn State under existing bylaws that allow sanctions when university officials impede an investigation. A recent report from special investigator Louis Freeh concluded that Penn State President Graham Spanier and other top university officials were aware of, but failed to properly report to authorities, alleged misconduct involving former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky and young boys. Sandusky was convicted of sexually abusing 10 boys, sometimes on campus.
An unnamed senior conference official told the Chronicle that the Freeh report provided the clarity that Big Ten officials needed to reach a decision.
Both UNL and the University of Iowa are among the 12 members of the Big Ten conference, as well as Penn State. Iowa President Sally Mason is chairwoman of the Big Ten's presidents council.
She was unavailable for an interview Thursday, but stressed through a spokesman that the council has not yet reached a conclusion on the institutional control issues raised.
Big Ten spokeswoman Diane Dietz described the proposal as “a working document intended to generate ideas, not draw conclusions.” Giving the commissioner emergency powers to sanction errant coaches is just one of many ideas proposed, she said.
The document was reviewed by the governing council in June, but no action was taken. The council is next scheduled to meet in December, and the provisions cannot take effect without council approval, Dietz said.
The document proposes a July 1, 2013, effective date.
The review is one of several steps outlined in December as part of the Big Ten council's response to the Penn State grand jury report and criminal charges. The council directed Big Ten lawyers to assist the NCAA and Penn State in reviews and investigations and reserved the right to impose sanctions in wrongdoing that may affect the conference and its reputation.
The Big Ten proposal calls for strengthening the chain of command over athletic departments, to make clear that university presidents and their athletic directors have both authority and accountability for running athletics. Its recommendations seem strongly oriented to problems associated with big-time athletic programs — academic standards, interference from boosters, marketing and licensing; athlete recruiting and disciplinary actions.
The report stresses compliance with the regulatory requirements of the NCAA, the Big Ten and universities.
Only one paragraph seems to refer to the Penn State case, one that gives the council and its commissioner authority to act “if a coach's personal behavior damaged the reputation of the member institution, and perhaps the conference and other member institutions, because it reflected a lack of institutional control.”
Nebraska Athletic Director Tom Osborne said the Big Ten provided information Thursday assuring athletic officials that the ideas listed in the document are nothing more than proposals not yet brought to fruition.
He declined to speculate when asked if it would be controversial to give the commissioner firing authority over coaches and other department employees.
Some observers questioned whether the Big Ten has the authority to interfere in the employment relationship between universities and staff.
“There's a lot of legal ramifications when you get into firing an institution's personnel,” said Grant Teaff, executive director of the American Football Coaches Association in Waco, Texas. “I would say it's fraught with issues.”
Several Big Ten officials said they are seeking ways to improve oversight and control.
Minnesota President Eric Kaler said he doubts individual schools would be willing to give up control to the conference on such issues as firing a coach.
But 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.
This report contains material from the Associated Press.”
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