Back in November, just a couple of weeks after the Penn State story broke, I wrote that the NCAA had the authority to hammer Penn State. Once that was clear the question was simple: not could the NCAA sanction Penn State, but should it? For the past several months this has been the only real question, to sanction or not to sanction? Both sides could marshall strong arguments. But on July 23rd, nearly eight months after OKTC initially told you that the NCAA had the power to sanction Penn State, the news became official, the NCAA would act. Not surprisingly Penn State was hammered by the NCAA. The school was fined $60 million dollars, all wins, a total of 111 victories, are stripped dating back to 1998, a four year post-season ban is applied, and Penn State loses dozens of scholarships, ten a year for the next four years in its recruiting classes, as well as sees its total number of available scholarships reduced to 65.
Additionally, all players are eligible to transfer immediately.
NCAA President Mark Emmert called the penalties a “stark wake-up call,” and said, “The lesson here is one of maintaining the appropriate balance of our values.”
Penn State agreed to the penalties, signing a consent decree. That’s important because it means these penalties were negotiated and will not be appealed. In essence, Penn State capitulated to some of the severest penalties since SMU’s death penalty in order to escape potentially more severe penalties. This is doubly significant because it eliminates the concern, voiced by many, that the NCAA’s power grab could lead to even more unjust results going forward. This is the greastest sports scandal of all time, these situations don’t arise very often. So an NCAA power grab isn’t a valid concern. If Penn State truly believed the NCAA lacked the authority to deliver sanctions, it could have fought these punishments to the utmost.
Instead, based upon a more full record than any NCAA investigation ever has — the Freeh report and criminal investigations were exhaustive — the NCAA acted with a full record of established facts.
Leading to one inescapable conclusion, for once, the NCAA got it completely right.
After a series of inconsistent and incongruous major rulings, among them Reggie Bush’s family “tanks” USC for improper benefits that no one may have actually known about meanwhile Auburn skates thanks to Cam Newton never knowing about his dad shopping him, the NCAA finally delivered a just result.
The penalties weren’t just severe, they were fitting.
In particular, Joe Paterno, whose silence in the face of great evil helped to ensure additional children were raped, loses the final 111 wins of his football coaching career, dropping him outside the top ten winningest coaches of all time, and sending a powerful message to the Paterno family, who still insists their father is unfairly maligned. Paterno helped to cover up these egregious acts to protect his climb up the all-time victories list. It’s only fitting, as I wrote a few weeks ago, that his wins from this period be stripped. Often vacating wins is meaningless, but here it means a ton. Paterno’s greatest career accomplishment was that wins record, now it’s gone forever.
The loss of scholarships and the post-season ban ensure that the Nittany Lion program will be severely punished for the next several years. That’s fair as well, considering there were many at Penn State who could have spoken out, many of who could have ended this story before it became the biggest sports scandal of all time. Yes, the current players aren’t to blame and they are being punished, but that punishment is mitigated by their ability to transfer anywhere in the country. The players are free agents who can transfer immediately with full eligibility, which gives them a freedom that many of their student-athlete peers probably envy.
The punishments fit the crime.
After all, if the NCAA can punish a poor kid for selling his own jersey, how can it claim it doesn’t have the jurisdiction to sanction the biggest sports scandal of our lives? Arguing against NCAA inaction here is basically arguing against NCAA action at all? You can make that argument — that the NCAA is completely worthless here — but you have to be consistent with that argument in future circumstances, all or nothing. Put simply, if the NCAA was going to have any legitimacy whatsoever it had to act here. You can’t vacate wins for free meals and claim child rape isn’t covered under the bylaws.
More importantly, the punishment is forward looking, rather than just reactionary.
The clear message here is that Penn State may not be alone, that there are other powerful athletic departments who would choose to remain silent in the face of great evil. Especially if that silence helped to protect the program going forward. It’s unbelievable, but there are probably other coaches and administrators out there who would turn in a moral outrage not because it’s the right thing to do, but because they now know that keeping silent could gut the program. Paradoxically what this punishment does is reassert the primacy of athletics while at the same time undercutting the primacy of athletics. Athletics are so important, the NCAA is saying, that we have to threaten athletics to make sure that coaches and administrators realize how unimportant athletics really are. That in the moral hierarchy, stopping child rape is more important than winning football games.
The fact that this message even needs to be sent — and that the NCAA fears that there could be other Penn State situations out there — is a testament to the power of winning games in college. Our priorities are so out of line that we have to threaten sports to get some coaches and administrators to do the right thing.
So the logic of this punishment isn’t morally perfect, punishments rarely are, but faced with precedents that are conflicting, inconsistent, and downright incongruous, the NCAA got this one right.
According to Mark Emmert, “That the NCAA needed to act in this case was never seriously debated. This case strikes at the very heart of what intercollegiate athletics is about.”
Dr. Ray spoke to the unanimity of the university president’s position: “I had not a single voice that wanted to step back and not take action. It was unanimous.”
And so it is, the blistering and unanimous attack upon Penn State’s silence continues.
Sixty million will come out of the university’s coffers — the equivalent of one year’s football revenue — as a prelude to the raid still to come, when civil lawsuits are filed that will lead to hundreds of millions more in payment from university coffers. Penn State is the new catholic church. This is the price that society levies when so many good people allow evil to triumph.
When will the assault upon Penn State’s silence end — not for decades, maybe not forever — but for now the NCAA has its pound of flesh. Even if the punishments are still just beginning.
For Penn State football, a conspiracy of silence has been replaced by a cacophony of punishments, the program is freshly beheaded each morning.
On Monday morning the NCAA may not have delivered the death penalty, but it definitely presided at an execution. Penn State is a dead program walking.
As it should be.