24 July 2012

Why the NCAA sanctions on Penn State (mostly) miss the mark

NCAA President Mark Emmert absolutely dropped the hammer on the Penn State football program today as a result of the Jerry Sandusky sexual molestation case and the findings of the Freeh Report that found that "Four of the most powerful people at Pennsylvania State University -- President Graham B. Spanier, Senior Vice President-Finance and Business Gary C. Schultz, Athletic Director Timothy M. Curley and Head Football Coach Joseph V. Paterno -- failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade." While the death penalty (suspension of the football program for a year) was not handed out, the sanctions that were handed out by the NCAA are worse and for the most part are too excessive.

  • A four-year ban on all postseason play (Big Ten Championship Game, bowls, the coming playoffs, etc.)
  • The vacating of all victories from 1998-2011. This strips Joe Paterno of being the winningest coach not just in FBS history but all of college football history, making Bobby Bowden and Eddie Robinson those record-holders, respectively
  • A reduction in the max amount of scholarships offered to incoming players from 25 to 15 for the next four years
  • Current Nittany Lions are allowed to transfer without any restrictions (normally have to sit out one season)
  • A $60 million fine, estimated to be the equal of one year of gross revenue for Penn State football, going towards an endowment to benefit the victims of Sandusky's actions
Now before I go into my diatribe about why the penalties are for the most part excessive, there are sanctions being levied that I agree with. I think the fine is absolutely necessary because the university, after all the damning revelations that the school had nothing next to nothing for the victims, had to give something to those poor victims whose lives were ruined forever. Allowing the current players to transfer without penalty also makes a lot of sense because it counters, somewhat, those who say the current players will be unfairly punished for something they had no connection to (more on that in a second). Plus, this does make a statement that there is more important things in this than football and thus the harsh penalties given to the program are not the equal of what happened to those boys. 

But, as Stewart Mandel states here, these punishments do shift attention from Sandusky's actions back to football, which seems to be what Emmert and his team was going for but all in all does not exactly make a ton of sense. All of the people that were involved, that allowed Sandusky's actions to go on, are all gone. The process of reducing scholarships and vacating victories are normally sanctions on the use of ineligible players or other NCAA violations. While serious humane crimes were committed, no NCAA violations were committed. Plus, this decision may open a Pandora's Box, if you will, of the NCAA being able to dole out harsh punishments for any sort of scandal by bypassing the traditional due process that, as Mandel notes, every school about to face punishment from the NCAA has received

Again, I do agree with some of the punishments and it is easy to say on the face value that these penalties are all just. But while the NCAA and Emmert try to show that there are more important things in football and thus these penalties are righteous, it also sends a message that football is so important that that is where the message has to be made. And I do not necessarily agree with that premise. 

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