NCAA erred in imposing original Penn State sanctions
by Jordan Kobritz
The biggest news emanating from the recently concluded NCAA annual convention wasn’t the new rules enacted by the Big-5 Conferences, which further distances themselves from the realm of amateurism. As significant as that news was, it took a back seat to the agreement by the NCAA to restore 112 wins to the Penn State University (PSU) football team, 111 of them by legendary coach Joe Paterno. Paterno’s record reverts to its legitimate total of 409-136-3 and restores him to his rightful place as the winningest coach in major college football history.
The deal was announced just weeks before a trial was to begin on a lawsuit brought by disgruntled members of the Penn State Board of Trustees. The goal of the suit was to overturn a 2012 consent decree that the NCAA and President Mark Emmert browbeat PSU president Rodney Erickson into accepting. At the time, PSU was reeling from revelations of the Jerry Sandusky child-molestation scandal and the entire PSU community wanted to put the stench of that sordid episode behind them as quickly as possible.
The NCAA had threatened to impose the death penalty on the football team, a penalty that depositions in the lawsuit revealed was never really considered and one that the governing body had no authority to implement. But the mere threat of such draconian action intimidated the trustees into quickly approving a package of sanctions that included the loss of football scholarships, a ban on post season play, and a $60 million fine in addition to vacating the school’s wins.
The NCAA’s goal should have been to punish the PSU administrators who chose to sweep reports of Sandusky’s child abuse under the rug instead of passing the information on to the appropriate authorities. Another laudable goal would have been the prevention of future incidents of pedophilia by anyone associated with the governing body or its member institutions. Sadly, the sanctions failed on both counts. In addition to being ineffective, they were absurd, heavy handed, and ludicrous on their face.
The NCAA took the opportunity to flex its muscles during an incredibly emotional and gut-wrenching time for the University. Coincidentally, the NCAA was also under attack from inside and outside the institution for, among other things, failing to safeguard the health and welfare of student-athletes, allowing member institutions to act like the professional teams they are, and appearing to be both ignorant and incompetent in the face of crises that called for intelligent action and leadership. PSU, wounded, grieving and distraught, seemed to be the perfect antidote to the NCAA’s ills.
Not only did the sanctions fail to punish the perpetrators of the scandal, they did nothing to help the victims. Instead, they punished innocents – PSU students, alumni, and the school’s current and former student-athletes, none of whom bore any responsibility for the egregious and despicable acts that had occurred on campus.
As part of the new deal, the NCAA also agreed to allow the fine to be used to prevent child abuse in the state of Pennsylvania. The fine is the only portion of the sanctions imposed by the NCAA that can arguably be supported.
The new agreement in the face of the pending litigation is an admission by the NCAA that it erred in imposing the original sanctions. However, true to form, rather than admit defeat the governing body issued a defiant statement. Kirk Schulz, Kansas State University president, speaking on behalf of the NCAA, was quoted as saying, “Today’s agreement with Penn State reaffirms our authority to act. The NCAA has a legitimate role when a member’s actions threaten the integrity of college sports. We acted in good faith in addressing the failures and subsequent improvements on Penn State’s campus…” As usual, those comments were both self-serving and inaccurate.
Despite the settlement of the trustees’ suit, the NCAA can’t put the entire PSU chapter behind it just yet. The Paterno family also has a lawsuit pending against the governing body. After the settlement between the NCAA and the PSU trustees was announced, representatives of the Paterno family issued a statement which said of the sanctions: “It was a grievously wrong action, precipitated by panic, rather than a thoughtful and careful examination of the facts.” That comment sums up the NCAA’s actions perfectly.
© Copyright 2015 Tanna K, All rights Reserved. Written For: Tinytown Unleashed