Penn State University football players received special treatment when they got into trouble, the university's former chief disciplinarian said on Tuesday.
The disclosure came as the university is reeling from allegations of child abuse by a former assistant coach and a cover-up, raising concerns a culture of special treatment for the football program may have allowed the alleged sex offenses to go on for years.
Vicky Triponey, vice president for student affairs from 2003 to 2007, said longtime football head coach Joe Paterno and then-university President Graham Spanier were involved in years of debate that ended in changing the rules for how football players were disciplined.
"The consequence of these accommodations put us in the position of treating football players more favorably than other students accused of violating the community standards as defined by the student code of conduct," Triponey said in a statement emailed to Reuters on Tuesday.
Former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was charged by a grand jury on Nov. 5 with 40 counts of sexually molesting boys over a 15-year period, in some cases at the football program's facilities. He has denied any wrongdoing.
Paterno, 84, the most successful coach in major college football, and Spanier were fired by university trustees this month for failing to tell police about the allegations of sex abuse. The former athletic director and a top finance official face perjury charges. They have proclaimed their innocence.
A university spokesman was not immediately available to comment on Triponey's assertions.
Triponey said that during her time at Penn State there was an "ongoing internal debate" about who should decide about how to discipline Penn State football players.
She said the discussions involved herself, the athletic administration, Paterno and Spanier. Triponey also met Spanier and Paterno separately and together to discuss cases involving football players.
Spanier and Paterno made "suggestions, requests and at times demands" to change the process or soften punishment for players who had broken rules, she said.
"As a result of these various meetings and conversations, my staff and I felt compelled to alter how we handled cases involving Penn State football players," said Triponey, who now heads special projects for a non-profit group in Charleston, South Carolina.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that differences over treatment of players came to a head in 2007, when police charged six football players for barging into a campus apartment that April and beating up several students, one of them severely, according to one former school official.
That September, following a tense meeting with Paterno over the case, Triponey resigned her position, saying at the time she left because of "philosophical differences."
Police dropped many of the charges against the players, and two pleaded guilty to misdemeanors, the newspaper said. The school's inquiry led to four players being suspended for a summer semester. They did not miss any games.