Well, it’s impossible to resist weighing in on the NCAA’s sanctions of Penn State’s football program, handed down on Monday. It was the lead story in today’s Chronicle and it’s the elephant in the room even for those academics who don’t care about intercollegiate sports. My verdict on the sanctions echoes my opinions of the Sandusky case, about which I wrote last month, but I’m even more surprised and outraged by what the NCAA decided to do. In short, they treated a football program as if it were a person, and handed in a melodramatic, grandstanding assortment of punishments that Yahoo sports writer Dan Wetzel rightly calls “worse than death.”
Let me first try to put the punishments in context and then provide some history to explain why the NCAA’s decision is so unprecedented and so clearly media driven. First, the penalties: 1) a $60-million dollar fine—I have no problem with that, though I think the money should come out of the pockets of Jerry Sandusky, the estate of Joe Paterno (the value of which has yet to be made public), and the pockets of ousted athletic director Tim Curley and campus security chief Gary Schultz, both of whom await trial on charges of perjury and failure to report Sandusky’s crimes (if they are convicted), and ousted president Graham Spanier, should he be charged and convicted in connection with the case. 2) More than a million dollars in lost revenue from Big Ten Bowl games in the next few years. 3) The vacating of all Penn State victories from 1998-2011 (symbolic, but it poetically strips Paterno of the position as the winningest coach in college football and puts Grambling’s legendary Eddie Robinson in his place—a man who won with far fewer resources and fought against decades of racism).
But here’s where it gets unfair in my opinion: 4). No eligibility for Big Ten Championship games or Bowl games for four years; 5) a reduction of ten scholarships each year (from 25 to 15) for the next four years; and finally 6) any current player can transfer to another university without redshirting (sitting out a year before being eligible to play). This means that from now until roughly the year 2020, anyone who chooses to stay at Penn State or to come to play football at Penn State, will be doomed to a four- or five-year existence on an absolutely execrable team. Can you imagine a five-star high-school recruit coming to visit Penn State in 2016 and saying, “Sure, I want to play on a team composed mostly of walk-ons with no athletic ability, which will have no hope of ever winning a conference game”?
For any of you who have watched the mournful pictures and videos of Penn State students upon hearing the NCAA sanctions, and wondered, “Don’t they get the seriousness of what happened?” you’re missing the point. They’re mourning what will certainly be the slow-motion death of their football program, and they and the players they’ll root for were all born after Sandusky reached the apex of his child-raping career.
All of which leads me to my conclusion that the NCAA was wrong, and in fact behaved unprecedentedly. All of this is summed up perfectly in Mike Fish’s column for ESPN.com’s Outside the Lines, so I’ll end with that and pick up tomorrow:
It was a very subtle yet telltale sign that this investigation would be different. The NCAA seemingly violated one of its cardinal tenets when it posted a November letter on its website from its president, Mark Emmert. Emmert was notifying Penn State president Rodney Erickson that the collegiate governing body was undertaking an examination of his athletics department in light of what had become a widely publicized child sexual abuse scandal with ties to the Nittany Lions football program.
The letter was seen as blasphemous in some quarters. NCAA policy, as straight-laced as it gets, has forever been not to utter a peep about the initiation of an investigation, let alone publish a three-page letter for the world to see. ‘He went off track from day one when they put that letter on their website,’ a former NCAA enforcement representative said of Emmert.
The NCAA has never punished a school for criminal behavior.
I’ll follow up tomorrow with historical context that I hope will explain what the NCAA should or should not have done and try to make the bigger connection between college athletics and the college experience in general.