College football: Penn State sanctions cast ripples in Utah
When the NCAA hammered down on Penn State on Monday morning with sanctions that will shake the foundations of the football program and university for years to come, millions of Americans were paying attention.
Counted among those millions are administrators at universities across the country, which are taking notes on how to best prevent a similarly ghastly event from taking hold on their campuses.
In Utah, local universities are brushing up and even beefing up their accountability policies to prevent criminal incidents such as Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky's molestation of boys from going unchecked and unreported.
Although every school has such procedures in place, the still-unfolding administrative letdown at Penn State has reminded college officials that it's worth making sure everyone knows the drill.
"This is new territory for a lot of folks," Utah State athletic director Scott Barnes said. "We have all had to refocus on what we can do better to change things. No specific changes have been made, but we are redoubling the focus on how to make sure this sort of thing doesn't happen on our campus."
At the University of Utah, spokeswoman Liz Abel said it's routine for the university to review its accountability policies every year. Under the athletic department guidelines, all employees must report any suspected criminal activities to athletic director Chris Hill.
But since the Penn State scandal broke, the Utes have added another detail to the code: Serious crimes must be reported to the police. Those who don't can be fired.
"We're just trying to stay on the right side of everything," Abel said. "Chris met with us after this stuff broke in the spring, and made sure everyone knew we have to go to the police. He does a really good job of staying on top of it."
Similarly, Barnes says Utah State has made sure its employees are well-aware of the expectation to report any criminal behavior.
"We have to practice integrity and it can't be casual," Barnes said. "We have to work at it every day. This is an unbelievably tragic example of what can occur when a culture goes wrong on a campus."
The NCAA sanctions also had a ripple effect in the small yet proud Penn State alumni community in Utah.
Salt Lake City resident Andy Kubic, a varsity letterman for Penn State between 2004 and 2006, said he felt "personally punished" after hearing of all his career wins as a Nittany Lion were vacated.
But Kubic also added that he still felt strong ties to the university where he earned his bachelors and masters degrees, and the football program he believes helped build his character.
"The NCAA cannot take away the fact that we get goose bumps whenever we talk or think about the roar of the crowd in Beaver Stadium," Kubic wrote in an email. "It cannot take away the fact that our eyes well up with tears when we remember what it felt like running out of the tunnel as a player. And it will never take away the pride we feel in our accomplishments. These memories did not die with the removal of a statue or the deletion of a win-loss record."
Val Evans, who runs the Utah chapter of the Penn State Alumni Association, acknowledged it has been a dark time for alums and that the struggles will likely continue. But she also added Penn State is much more than its sports, and hopefully the university will do even more good in the world.
"So many miles away, Penn State alumni now living in Utah need each other," Evans wrote in an email. "We look forward to Penn State becoming a national leader in helping victims of child sexual assault and promoting awareness across our nation. WE are Penn State."
Jack Wang contributed to this story.