LINCOLN — Bo Pelini and other Big Ten coaches need not worry that their jobs rest in the hands of the 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.
On Friday, however, the Big Ten Conference released a statement that said it has no plans to give its commissioner the power to fire coaches.
The conference said “giving emergency powers to the commissioner to fire personnel is not under consideration” by its 12-member Council of Presidents and Chancellors.
That echoes comments Thursday from University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Harvey Perlman, who said the Big Ten is not poised to give Delany the authority to fire coaches, nor had it discussed whether to oust Penn State. Perlman serves on the Council of Presidents and Chancellors, the conference's governing board.
“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.”
A Big Ten document published by the Chronicle of Higher Education on Thursday described a concept that would give the council 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.
It included a provision that “in circumstances ... requiring immediate and decisive action,” Delany would be granted “unilateral authority to take any and all actions” he reasonably believed necessary. Any action would have to be reviewed and approved by the council as soon as possible.
On Friday, the conference described the document as an early draft put together by the Big Ten staff “in order to surface all of the options available.”
The 18-page document was prepared at the council's request in the wake of the child 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.
It suggested that 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 with 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, along with Penn State. Iowa President Sally Mason chairs the Big Ten's presidents council.
Mason was unavailable for an interview Thursday, but she stressed through a spokesman that the council has not 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.
This report includes material from the Associated Press.
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