The NCAA's unprecedented $60 million fine against Penn State will hurt the university in its pocketbook. The silver lining is that it will help plenty of abused kids, and it could even wind up preventing abuse — if it is distributed carefully, child welfare advocates say.
As part of its punishment over the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal, Penn State agreed Monday to pay $12 million a year for the next five years into an endowment to fund programs for the detection, prevention and treatment of child abuse.
Penn State and the NCAA have not settled on the procedure by which the money will be given out. But for nonprofit organizations living hand to mouth after years of cutbacks in state, federal and foundation aid, the cash could have a huge impact.
"You're not going to find anybody in our line of work who's going to say, 'No, we're good,'" said Chris Newlin, executive director of the National Children's Advocacy Center in Huntsville, Ala.
"I think whenever there's pot of money, people will hover," added Debra Schilling Wolfe, executive director of the Field Center for Children's Policy, Practice & Research at the University of Pennsylvania. "It's like drawing flies to honey."
The NCAA walloped Penn State with sanctions on Monday, including the fine, a four-year bowl ban and a sharp reduction in the number of football scholarships it may offer. The governing body acted swiftly following a report by former FBI Director Louis Freeh that accused coach Joe Paterno and three top officials of hiding child sexual abuse allegations against Sandusky more than a decade ago to protect the school and its powerful football program.
Sandusky was convicted last month of 45 counts of abuse of 10 boys. He awaits sentencing.
In a statement after the NCAA announced the sanctions, Penn State President Rodney Erickson said the $60 million fine will help the school meet its mandate to "become a national leader to help victims of child sexual assault and to promote awareness across our nation."
With so many organizations nationwide expected to vie for the cash, Penn State should set up a competitive grant program to set priorities and make sure the funds are given to organizations with a record of success, said Delilah Rumburg, chief executive officer of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape. And the funding decisions should be made by an independent body of experts, she said.
"It has to be very well thought out," said Rumburg, who spoke with a Penn State vice president on Tuesday about the process by which the funds will be granted. "Because if you just randomly and without forethought make decisions, it won't have any impact at all."
Even before the NCAA fine, Penn State had sought to make amends over its failure to protect the children that Sandusky molested on campus.
Rumburg's group, which operates rape crisis centers across the state, received a $1.5 million donation from Penn State out of its 2011 Big 10 bowl proceeds. Another $1.1 million in bowl revenues went to Penn State's new center for child abuse research and treatment. And Penn State alumni have raised nearly $540,000 for the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, which bills itself as the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization. The donations went to RAINN's sexual assault hotline, an anonymous instant messaging service that allows victims of sexual abuse to speak about their trauma.
Scott Berkowitz, RAINN's founder, said the donations allowed him to add staff and cut wait times in half. But with usage up nearly 50 percent since November, RAINN needs all the help it can get, he said. Berkowitz expects to pursue some of the NCAA money.
"Every time we add staff to our online hotline, the usage of the hotline jumps significantly. That tells us we are not even close to meeting all the demand," he said. "If we were able to double staffing, that would mean we are providing counseling to an extra 40,000 people a year."
David Finkelhor, a professor of sociology and director of the Crimes against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, said the NCAA and Penn State should work with experts in the field to chart a course for the endowment money.
One idea, he said, would be to devote it to protecting students or children in athletics, where coaches, team volunteers or even kids themselves can be sexual predators or abusers.
"What happened at Penn State could have happened at many, many places," Finkelhor said. "It isn't as though other universities would have been so quick to blow the whistle if it meant casting a pall on their very lucrative and prestigious football program."
Newlin, of the National Children's Advocacy Center, said he hopes the $60 million will be used to attract contributions from others, including corporations.
"Why limit it to this $60 million from Penn State?" Newlin asked. "Why don't we combine these resources from all over and have those funds available in perpetuity to help our grandchildren? That truly is taking an ugly and horrific situation and turning it into something fundamentally positive."