STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- The NCAA will examine whether Penn State broke any rules with its handling of a child sex abuse scandal that has shocked the campus and cost the school's former president and coach Joe Paterno their jobs.
NCAA president Mark Emmert sent a letter to Penn State president Rod Erickson saying that the governing body for college sports will look at "Penn State's exercise of institutional control over its intercollegiate athletics programs" in the case of Jerry Sandusky, the former defensive coordinator accused of 40 counts of child sex abuse.
"We have to examine those facts and make a thoughtful determination of what is covered by our bylaws and what is not," Emmert told The Associated Press on Friday.
Emmert said the case is not yet a formal investigation, though the inquiry could lead to that. NCAA investigators have not yet been on Penn State's campus. Emmert has asked the university to respond by Dec. 16 to several questions.
If the NCAA decides to move ahead from there, the process could take an additional six to 10 months.
"Everyone that works inside a university, a coach, an administrator, a faculty member is first an educator and mentor," Emmert said. "When you're in that position you have a responsibility to provide leadership and maintain a high ethical standard."
Sandusky is accused of abusing eight boys, some on campus, over 15 years. Among the charges is an alleged assault in 2002 that was not brought to the attention of police, according to a grand jury report, even though top officials at Penn State knew there was an accusation of inappropriate behavior.
The resulting scandal has tarnished the image of a once squeaky-clean football program that has prided itself on the slogan "Success with Honor."
"It will be important for Penn State to cooperate fully and provide any assistance possible to the NCAA," Erickson said in a statement. "The university's and NCAA's interests are perfectly aligned in identifying what went wrong and how to prevent anything similar from happening again."
Athletic Director Tim Curley has been placed on administrative leave, and Vice President Gary Schultz, who was in charge of the university's police department, has retired.
Schultz and Curley each are charged with lying to the grand jury and failure to report to police. They maintain their innocence, as does Sandusky.
In addition to the ongoing criminal investigation of Sandusky, Penn State has started its own, internal review and the U.S. Department of Education is examining whether the school failed to report incidents of sexual abuse on campus, as required by federal law.
Soon after Penn State announced that the NCAA was getting involved in the case, Scott Paterno, the ex-coach's son, said his father has been diagnosed with a treatable form of lung cancer. The younger Paterno said his father is expected to make a full recovery.
Emmert, in his letter, said the allegations in the case are testing "not only the integrity of the university, but that of intercollegiate athletics as a whole and the NCAA member institutions that conduct college sports."
The NCAA in the letter asked Penn State to respond to various questions, including:
— How did Penn State exercise "institutional control over the issues identified in and related" to the grand jury report? Did the school have procedures in place that were, or were not, followed?
— The NCAA also wants to know if "each of the alleged persons to have been involved or have notice of the issues identified in and related" to the grand jury report behaved according to the school's policies on honesty and ethical conduct.
— The NCAA also asked Penn State to explain its policies and procedures that are "in place to monitor, prevent and detect the issues identified in and related to the Grand Jury Report."
Paterno, Division I's winningest coach with 409 victories, was fired by university trustees Nov. 9, the same night then-president Graham Spanier also left his job under pressure. School leaders faced mounting criticism that more should have done to prevent the alleged abuse.
Emmert in his letter cited an NCAA bylaw that says coaches or athletic staffers must "do more than avoid improper conduct or questionable acts. Their own moral values must be so certain and positive that those younger ... will be influenced by a fine example. Much more is expected of them than of the less critically placed citizen."
Acting athletic director Dave Joyner, could not immediately be reached for comment.
Joyner had been formally introduced earlier Friday, promising change following a turbulent two weeks. He said he would make sure that the "core values" of the school's sports programs are aligned with the university's academic side.
"I'm sorry I'm here for this reason," Joyner said. "And first and foremost, I want to tell you how sad I am for the victims in this case."