Monday, July 23, 2012

NCAA Meets Out Punishment for Penn State's Preference for Defending Brand over Protecting Children

On Monday, the NCAA imposed substantial sanctions against Penn State University in response to Penn State's cover-up of former football defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky's sexual abuse of children.  The penalties include substantial reductions in scholarships over the next four years, a four-year ban from bowl games, and the stripping of all victories from PSU's and Joe Paterno's lifetime coaching record, dating back to 1998--the year of the first known cover-up of Sandusky's actions.

The decision comes just weeks after former FBI Director Louis Freeh's report implicated former head coach Joe Paterno and former PSU President Graham Spanier, among others, in conspiring to conceal Sandusky's actions to preserve the reputation of the football team--a decision that permitted Sandusky to continue his predation of young boys.

Those still in denial that PSU's actions constituted a football decision remain defiant.  This demonstrates both the depths of the problem at PSU and the reason why the measures, if not even stronger ones, are necessary.

Since at least 1998, PSU officials at the highest levels of the University intentionally perpetuated a crime to ensure that money and elite college football players continued to flow to the University to support the University's other missions.  Despite absurd pleas to the contrary from some quarters, this is the definition of "lack of institutional control"--the institution no longer held reign over those within the institution--and NCAA actions against the football program were, thus, both warranted and required.  Those who supported or played for the football team subsequently enjoyed the benefits of that decision-making, as did the University at large.  As a matter of justice, it is more than right and proper, therefore, that those same individuals and anyone who subsequently bought into that legacy, endure their relevant punishment.

For PSU fans, the sanctions will mean a depleted team for years going forward.  Fans benefitted from the cover-up through Paterno's latter career, now they must endure the consequences of unwarranted returns in those years.

Players on past teams also will endure some pain as victories and bowl appearances will be wiped from the books.  Those players, though unknowing participants in the scandal, nevertheless benefited from buying into the "Penn State way."  Now, they will receive the full benefit of that calculus.

Current players, too, many who continue to believe that this is nothing more than a witch hunt, despite zero evidence to support the belief and voluminous evidence to the contrary, will pay for misplaced fealty to a system that allowed and even encouraged criminal, predatory behavior against children.  Presumably, the NCAA will permit immediate transfers for those wishing to pursue their careers elsewhere as soon as this season.  For those who elect not to accept such an offer, however, there should be no tears.

Finally, the University will receive at least some of what it is due.  President Spanier supported the cover-up and perpetuation of the child-abuse on PSU's campus out of fear that revelation of the criminal activity would tarnish the football program that so branded the University.  As the football team went, Spanier believed, so, too, did the University.  Football success meant happy alums which translated to easy fund-raising.  The difference between a sullied football program and one protected by the cover-up and perpetuation of Sandusky's actions can be measured in the billions of dollars in returns to the football program and broader University.  This punishment will help rectify those ill-gotten gains.

Already, there are some that are arguing that the NCAA's sanctions are far too harsh.  And, likely, PSU will go to court to challenge the sanctions.  However, given what occurred at PSU and the response even of some members of PSU's board of trustees--referring to other University Presidents who supported the sanctions as "pansies," among other derogatory terms--it is clear that the NCAA's actions will probably be more punitive than culture altering, leading to the larger question of whether it is time drastically to address college football culture in general.  For the one thing PSU has been right about all along is that certainly other programs are also guilty of putting football culture and University branding before what is right.