Penn State Gets An "F" In Crisis Management 101

Penn State Football logo
Penn State Football logo

In the last four days, Penn State officialshave been getting crushed by the media and by fans for their handling of charges of sexual assault allegations that inexplicably reached a dead end without being reported.

But what makes things worse is that Penn State somehow has been completely unprepared to address the charges since authorities indicted former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky and arrested administrators Gerry Schultz and athletic director Tim Curley on charges of failing to report and perjury in front of a federal grand jury.

President Graham Spanier, in a statement issued Saturday, somehow expressed his "unconditional support" for Schultz and Curley, who a day later were no longer working for the university. On Sunday, longtime football coach Joe Paterno expressed "shock" in his own statement.

How is this possible? How can the state be working on a two-year investigation and Spanier and Paterno, in their first public comments, act as if they were blindsided?

Whether they claim to know about specific details about the alleged sexual assaults or not, wouldn't they understand the gravity of the case just from what was being asked? Wouldn't they have a hint of what was coming?

I guess not.

By the time the state announced the charges on Friday afternoon, Penn State was already in a terrible position and had no further comment on Monday when attorney general Linda Kelly detailed the charges in a news conference that was carried live on SportsCenter.

Those who are good at handling crisis relations, know how to deal with something as horrendous as is being alleged. As soon as it's clear law enforcement is involved, they know how to prepare a team of lawyers and communication specialists.

It's hard to cooperate with a federal grand jury investigation, but Penn State could have issued a nearly simultaneous release or its crisis team could have even suggested to get ahead of the news by creating carefully crafted statements that wouldn't compromise the investigation, but also wouldn't leave the school vulnerable.

It makes no sense how Penn State was seemingly scrambling to release Spanier and Paterno's statements, neither of which benefited the school.

How could Spanier fully support the two officials who didn't do their job? How could Paterno say he was shocked by the charges even after a two-year investigation? Hinting that the school was fooled by a pedophile who they trusted too much? Not enough, but better.

What's even more troubling is that they still don't get it. On Monday, the school told reporters that Paterno would only be answering questions about this week's upcoming game against Nebraska in his weekly press conference on Tuesday afternoon, as if sweeping this all under the rug worked the first time and the second time and the third time.

Try again.

What allegedly happened and how the chain of command failed is devastating. But as we've seen with other scandals, the inability to deal with something that went wrong in the right way makes things worse. The web, and now Twitter, require that the necessary reaction time be quicker than ever before, which means you have to have a plan before the news hits.

Unfortunately, for Penn State, the best case study in crisis management for the kids that take that course at their school, will likely now be their own.

Questions? Comments?