I’m from Ohio but I’ve never been very much into college football. Not sure why but I’ve always leaned towards the NFL. So it was with the feeling of driving-past- the-scene of –a-bad-car-accident that I watched the Penn State scandal unfold last year. I glanced over some truly disturbing headlines about Jerry Sandusky but in general I ignored the story, to be honest I just don’t want to read those kinds of news stories.
By the time the NCAA issued its strong punishment to Penn State this past Monday I had almost forgotten about the “scandal” (if that even the right word for it? That sounds so trivial compared to what really happened) but I kept hearing the words “unprecedented” and that the NCAA had overstepped its bounds so I started reading up.
Full disclosure here, I don’t know much about college football and I know even less about how the NCAA typically metes out justice. But here are the facts that I do know:
- A man (Jerry Sandusky) in a significant leadership position at a top college football program used his position to sexually abuse young boys.
- Despite the fact that a witness saw this abuse and reported it, the leaders of the college and the program did not report the abuse to the authorities for fear of bad publicity, even though they knew Sandusky had been investigated in 1998 for similar accusations (see Freeh report here).
Based on the above information, how could the NCAA not move to quickly mete out punishment? There have been comments that they did not follow any documented policy or procedure or precedent. One particularly atrocious comment stated this about the NCAA punishment:
“This should have gone through the enforcement process, no matter how egregious the facts are,” Buckner [Michael Buckner, Florida attorney who represents schools against the NCAA] said, adding, “Now, what’s the standard?”
Look, I work in HR; I get the whole following policy and establishing precedent thing. I understand in most circumstances you want to follow standard procedure and precedent, but this situation is unprecedented. No one writes a policy manual that includes scenarios such as “Found out President & Head Coach were covering up a pedophile for a decade.”
What’s the lesson for HR?
Unprecedented situations call for unprecedented actions. In our careers we may find ourselves in a situation that isn’t in the policy manual or that is of such a serious nature that we shouldn’t even look to the policy manual as a guide. Working with the leaders in our organization I hope we have the courage to chuck the handbook, and any notions of “precedent” and standard procedures right out the window.