PSU case conjures up memories of SMU

INDIANAPOLIS -- Twenty five years, five months and 28 days ago, David Berst stood at a podium in Dallas and delivered SMU's "death" warrant.

And then he fainted.

Berst, then the NCAA's director of enforcement and now the NCAA's Division I vice president, wasn't in the spotlight Monday as NCAA president Mark Emmert handed down severe sanctions for Penn State's football program because of the school's misdeeds in the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse case. Instead, he and several other NCAA vice presidents sat a few feet away from Emmert as he lowered the boom on Penn State.

Until recent days, some expected Penn State to receive the so-called "death penalty." SMU remains the only FBS program the NCAA has suspended for a season.

"It conjures up many of those memories for me, just thinking through what's occurred over the years," Berst said, referring to the SMU verdict. "I don't know if I could draw any analogies between the two cases."

One difference Monday was that the NCAA handed down its penalties at its headquarters, rather than at the offender school, as Berst did Feb. 25, 1987. Making the announcement at SMU added to the stress for Berst, who already had been fighting the flu.

SMU received the harshest sanctions in NCAA history, including the suspension of the 1987 season.

How did Penn State's penalties compare?

"As severe as any that I can recall," Berst said. "It will take some management by Penn State to work through this. This was a very difficult penalty for them."

Many felt if any scandal deserved the "death penalty" from the NCAA, Penn State's warranted it. Although Emmert and the NCAA's executive board strongly considered the death penalty, they ultimately concluded it would punish too many people who had nothing to do with the mess in State College.

Is the "death penalty" dead? Berst says no.

"I wouldn't assume that at all," he said. "Even the SMU case, that was a very, very unique case, and I've said there may not have been any penalties left you could conjure up. But as we move into a new enforcement system, one of the working groups ... has emphasized more serious penalties, including the opportunity to take action to stop competition in a particular sport.

"I think you'll see a re-emphasis in enforcing stronger penalties going forward, including the so-called death penalty."