Penn State: Did the Punishment Fit the Crime?

01 Aug

About a week ago, Mark Emmert laid the smack down.

Penn State football has been officially sanctioned by the NCAA as well as the Big 10.  How harsh that sanction was depends on your perspective….and by now, we’ve heard plenty of opposing views on this issue. Was the NCAA right or wrong in doling out these sanctions?

Before we get into any of that talk, here’s a quick review the penalties:

  • $60 million fine (paid to charities fighting sexual abuse)
  • 4-year ban from any bowl games
  • Forfeiting 20 scholarships per year for 4 years
  • Vacating all wins since 1998 (112 wins, which drops Joe Pa from most wins all time)
  • 5 year probation period
  • Ineligible for Big 10 championship games for 4 years (Big Ten sanction)
  • 5 year probation (Big Ten sanction)
  • Joe Paterno’s statue was taken down (not an official sanction)

Wow.  Those are some hefty sanctions.  In fact, many experts and analysts are saying that it will take Penn State football at least 7-10 years to recover, if they are able to recover from this at all.  Many are calling it a “death penalty” for the football program.

The vacated wins, the fine, and the probation period could probably be overcome.  They are largely symbolic and won’t affect the program moving forward in a substantial way.  The loss of scholarships and the ban from bowl and conference championship games are more crucial to the program’s future success (or failure).

Losing that many scholarships per year really hurts in a tough conference.  A conference that, even when Penn State is at their best, they still don’t usually win outright.  With all of their scholarships, they are a good team.  Not a great team (usually).  Without those scholarships, they’re losing players that help make them a team that is regularly in the top half of the Big 10 standings.  And with no chance in the near future to compete in big games, they’re going to have a hard time recruiting players who want to shine on the national stage.  Any current or incoming scholarship players are also being given the opportunity to take their talents elsewhere without any penalty, in light of these sanctions by the NCAA.  It’s inevitable that a handful of players who are good enough to shine on a national stage will head somewhere else where they will have that opportunity.  The NCAA doesn’t want to punish the students who did not contribute to the scandal (though many, if not most, of the players will probably still be around and will thus face the consequences).

Preparing to take down the statue of Paterno.

So…hefty? Yes.  Too much or too little, that’s what’s up for debate…

Several arguments have been made by those who argue that this punishment is too harsh:

  • This is a criminal case, thus, the NCAA should not have meddled to such an extent.
  • Everyone involved in the scandal or the cover-up/negligence is being (or has been) punished criminally, fired, removed, or passed away.
  • This only hurts the players who are there now.  They had nothing to do with the deviant actions, nor were they aware of what was going on.  It would only hurt student and local area pride and morale.  The wrong people are being punished.
  • Mark Emmert is trying to pull a ‘Roger Goodell’ and act individually as the judge and jury.  Normally, any type of NCAA sanctions go through a process of review and investigation (that lasts several weeks/months) by the NCAA; this case skipped this entire process and Emmert relied solely on the Freeh Report.
  • ‘Killing’ a historically important program such as Penn State does nothing at all to help college football.
  • Punishing Penn State harshly will not stop other programs from acting deviantly (i.e. this is not an effective form of deterrence).

The counter-argument is that this punishment was well-deserved, and that the NCAA’s tough sanctions were justified:

  • Children were molested.
  • The football program was used, at least in part, by Sandusky to bring in children who would become victims of sexual abuse and harassment.
  • The NCAA is responsible for monitoring its member institutions (universities) and ensuring that they meet certain academic and ethical standards.  To not sanction such a blatant case of unethical behavior would be negligent on the part of the NCAA.
  • Individuals within the football program and athletic department did not investigate to the extent that they could/should have when certain activities were reported to them.  Paterno was on the record as having said that he should have done more.  The assumption is that these individuals didn’t do more so that they wouldn’t call attention to or create PR problems for their football program.
  • The NCAA and Mark Emmert had to come down especially harsh on this incident because it was a systemic problem within the football program.  This occurred over a long period of time and was an example where the school put the football program and its reputation ahead of the innocent lives of children.
  • This is such a rare and dramatic case that the unique and tough sanctions were justified.  The Freeh report was enough to act on in this case.

With compelling reasons on each side, I must admit that I am a bit on the fence with this issue.  On the one hand, how could the NCAA claim to do its job if it didn’t harshly sanction Penn State for the abhorrent and egregious systemic problems that were occurring within the football program?  If they hadn’t sanctioned them, would this show that simply being a large, historically important football program is enough to get them off with a slap on the wrist?  (Can you be too big/important to fail or be punished in NCAA football?)  On the other hand,  the only individuals who were aware of what was going on are being dealt with as individuals: through criminal prosecution or loss of job/position (and of course, Paterno passed away).  Is crippling football for the innocent people who remain the fairest solution?

This is a tricky one, but I tend to err on the side of being too harsh.  It’s important to keep things in perspective and recognize that one of the reasons this was such a prolonged problem was that many of these individuals had the interests of Penn State football in mind instead of the young individuals being harassed.  When a program reaches that kind of importance and takes precedence over real people, then I think that presents a large problem.  So the football program will suffer some harsh penalties and innocent players will bear the burden of some of these sanctions, but it will hopefully serve to bring the football program back to reality where people matter the most.

What do you think??  

Too harsh?  Not harsh enough? Just right?

What are some other compelling arguments for or against that I haven’t stated here?


Posted by on August 1, 2012 in Sports


Tags: , , , , ,

2 responses to “Penn State: Did the Punishment Fit the Crime?

  1. Andy

    August 3, 2012 at 11:06 AM

    It’s hard for me to judge whether these exact penalties are too harsh or not, since I don’t know the effects that they will have on the program in the future. That being said, I don’t have any problem at all with the NCAA going after Penn State’s football program. Many people, including Skip Bayless (unfortunately for the more thoughtful people that also make this argument), have argued that the underlying offense has nothing to do with the football program. Jerry Sandusky abused children, and he is paying the criminal penalty for that horrible crime. That should be enough, goes this argument.

    I think that this point of view is dead wrong, and almost intentionally ignores the larger context of this situation. Let’s think of it this way. Suppose Jerry Sandusky was a respected professor at Penn State, who was the department head of its most prestigious academic program. He is observed molesting children, and this is reported to university officials. Do they cover it up? Hell no, he would be fired, jailed, and disgraced immediately. So what is the only difference between that hypo and the real world? The football program. Essentially, it is the importance of the football program and its legacy that created the whole situation. Obviously Jerry Sandusky started it by being a disgusting pedophile, but the university fostered it and allowed it to continue for years because of the football program. To say that the sex abuse scandal is not football related ignores the fact that the football program was the motive for the whole coverup.

    So while most of the responsible individuals have been punished or have died, the responsible conditions were still intact, until the NCAA pretty much just blew up the whole program. The Penn State football program had grown to the point where it overshadowed the good sense of otherwise perfectly reasonable and responsible people. I don’t think that the sanctions are punishing the innocent. The NCAA is allowing current players to transfer with no waiting period, and committed players to look at other schools. Are they inconvenienced? Probably, but convenience isn’t the most important concern in this situation. As for the fans, their “punishment” is that the program will likely lose some prestige and certainly some success in years to come. But that is the whole point. It was too prestigious to begin with, so much so that it resulted in a multi-year coverup of child rape. Sorry fans, but remedying that situation is a bit more important than wins and losses. Go watch some Steelers games and get over it.


  2. trokspot

    August 3, 2012 at 12:28 PM

    Yeah, I agree with you pretty much 100%, which is why after some initial waffling and showing both arguments, I came down on the side of the NCAA doing the right thing (even though it seems “harsh” to many people). You and I both agree that the only reason this was enabled and prolonged was because the individuals involved put the interests of the football program above the actual people being victimized.

    I suppose those people who seem extremely upset by this ruling could also become Eagles fans if the Steelers thing doesn’t seem appealing…



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