In reporting the story, CNN said Sunday it did not have the purported e-mails but was read the alleged contents. USA Today also indicated it couldn't verify the content.
The messages indicate former Penn State President Graham Spanier and two other former university officials knew they had a problem with former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky after a 2001 incident, but apparently decided to initially handle the situation in a "humane" approach before contacting other agencies tasked with investigating suspected abuse.
"This is a more humane and upfront way to handle this," Gary Schultz, a university vice president at the time, allegedly wrote.
Sandusky recently was convicted of abusing 10 boys during a 15-year period.
In an e-mail exchange Feb. 26-28, 2001, Spanier allegedly recognized Penn State could be "vulnerable" for not reporting the incident, two sources knowledgeable about the matter told CNN.
"The only downside for us is if the message [to Sandusky] isn't 'heard' and acted upon, and we then become vulnerable for not having reported it," Spanier reportedly wrote.
The alleged e-mails among Spanier, Schultz and former Athletic Director Tim Curley didn't mention Sandusky by name, but referred to "the subject" or "the person." Children Sandusky brought on campus -- some of whom may have been victims -- were called "guests."
The purported exchanges about two weeks after then- graduate assistant Mike McQueary told Head Coach Joe Paterno on Feb. 9, 2001, that McQueary believed he saw Sandusky have sexual contact with a boy in a shower.
Schultz and Curley have said McQueary reported inappropriate conduct, such as horsing around. The purported e-mails indicate they could face more risk for not disclosing the matter to authorities.
In a statement to CNN, lawyers for Schultz and Curley said their clients were doing the best they could about a report of "inappropriate conduct" by a man who was "loved by everybody."
"As [Pennsylvania Gov.] Tom Corbett stated, 'If we were going to do this case, we had to have the best possible case ... ," the statement said, citing Corbett's remarks published in an article June 25.
"For Curley, Schultz, Spanier and Paterno, the responsible and 'humane' thing to do was -- like Governor Corbett [said] -- to carefully and responsibly assess the best way to handle vague, but troubling allegations," the statement said. "Faced with tough situations, good people try to do their best to make the right decisions."
Dan McGinn, spokesman for Paterno's family, who has not seen the e-mails, told CNN Paterno didn't communicate by e-mail and defended the coach, saying "He did the right thing. He told his boss about McQueary."
Schultz and Curley are charged with perjury for allegedly lying to a grand jury and failing to report suspected child abuse. They have pleaded not guilty.
In 2011, a grand jury found no Pennsylvania law enforcement or child welfare agency was told of the 2001 shower incident, CNN reported.
"It was not only not humane to give Sandusky a pass, but inhumane towards young men who fell prey to him," said attorney Tom Kline, who represents one of the victims.
Based on the e-mails and other documents, Schultz and Curley could face additional charges, law enforcement sources and legal experts told CNN. Spanier could also be charged.
As part of their grand jury investigation, state prosecutors are examining the e-mails turned over by Penn State.