NCAA punishes Penn State, but does it fit the crime?

By Robert Riches
September 8, 2012

The National Collegiate Athletic Association, better known as the NCAA, recently levied heavy sanctions against the Penn State University football program following the school’s child sexual abuse scandal.

After former coach Jerry Sandusky was found guilty of 45 out of 48 charges against him and former FBI Director Louis Freeh published a report implicating that top officials at Penn State did attempt to cover up the scandal, the NCAA was the next governing body that got the chance to throw its weight around.

NCAA President Mark Emmert announced on July 23 the sanctions that Penn State was to face–five years of probation, a ban on postseason play for four seasons, vacating of wins from 1998-2011 (eliminating 111 wins from former head coach Joe Paterno), a $60 million fine, which would go to a fund preventing child abuse, a loss of 40 scholarships between 2013 and 2017, requirement to abide by all recommendations in the Freeh report and requirement of an “athletics integrity agreement.”

It was widely speculated that Penn State would receive the NCAA’s “death penalty”- the ban placed on a school sport from competing for a minimum of one year. The NCAA has not imposed the death penalty on a football team since 1987 after penalizing Southern Methodist University for a multitude of player and recruiting violations.

The NCAA’s penalty against Penn State has generated significant buzz in many circles, with critics arguing that they have not done enough and others arguing that is unfair to those who were not involved with the scandal.

In my opinion, voiding all victories between 1998 and 2011 as well as revocation of scholarships between 2013 and 2017 is over the top. While it is nice to see that Penn State has as many victories between 1998 and 2011 as the Cabrini Cavaliers’ football program, it would make more sense to vacate wins between 1998 and 1999 as Sandusky was officially a coach of the team back then.

Vacating 13 years of victories doesn’t make sense because it affects the players, who had no involvement in the scandal. When these players would score touchdowns, execute open-field form tackles and win games, they did it purely out of football instinct, not because their current or former coach was sexually involving himself with underage boys.

Voiding scholarships for a set period of years doesn’t make sense because it affects people who had absolutely zero involvement with Penn State during the period when the scandals took place. A kid growing up with dreams of wearing the blue-and-white Nittany Lion uniform and playing at Beaver Stadium will see that dream taken away from him.

While the NCAA’s sanctions on Penn State seem unfair at first, they have offered current players a reprieve. Any player who wished to transfer to another school was allowed to do so with the normal one-year waiting period being waived and players who wished to remain at the school were guaranteed that their scholarships would not be revoked. However, former players between 1998 and 2010 just got the classic quote from “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”: “You get nothing! You lose! Good day, sir!”

A ban from competing in the postseason does not make sense as well. If the current Nittany Lions rises above and earns a berth in the playoffs, the NCAA would only be punishing them for talent. However, with the team off to a 0-2 start, the playoffs may be a long shot.

The remainder of the NCAA’s penalty does make sense and is agreeable. Five years of probation is appropriate, as it is not too short or too long of a time for the NCAA to keep an eye on the school. Forced compliance with the Freeh report and an integrity agreement will help prevent the school from any further violations. Funding child abuse prevention is nothing short of brilliant.

The NCAA truly threw the book at Penn State for their heinous crimes. However, pages from the book have fallen on the wrong people.

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Robert Riches

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