Russell Hebets Nov. 7, 2011

A scandal to end all scandals is rocking Penn State coach Joe Paterno’s football program, once vaunted for its stability in an era where new allegations of NCAA rules violations sprout up almost weekly. Unlike the investigations weighing down programs such as Miami and USC, the accusations of sexual assault on minors against Jerry Sandusky are criminal in nature. Jerry Sandusky was coach Joe Paterno’s defensive coordinator until 1999. In addition to Sandusky, athletic director Tim Curley and Penn State vice president Gary Schultz are also facing criminal charges stemming from these accusations. Curley has since been voluntarily placed on administrative leave, and Schultz has stepped down from his position.

Although details are still emerging, initial media reports indicate that a graduate assistant witnessed a specific sexual assault in 2002 and reported it to head coach Joe Paterno, who then reported it to Tim Curley. The testimony of this graduate student will be the key in determining the strength of the case against Sandusky, Curley and Schultz. While coach Joe Paterno has not been implicated by the Grand Jury in their indictment, he still could face criminal liability if further investigation shows that he was made aware of a specific allegation of sexual abuse and he failed to report it to law enforcement. Linda Kelly, Pennsylvania Attorney General, has said that coach Joe Paterno is not a target of their investigation at this time.

The case against Curley and Schultz will focus on how much knowledge they had of the alleged abuses. Their criminal defense attorneys will likely attempt to show that they were not advised of specific sexual assaults or of any conduct which would be criminal in nature. If this defense strategy is successful, they will argue that while they may have had an obligation to pursue an internal investigation more aggressively, they could deny greater criminal liability.