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).
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?