NCAA president Mark Emmert is about to walk down a very slippery slope. The news that the NCAA will announce sanctions against Penn State’s football program for criminal behavior carried out years ago by men who are no longer in power at the university is a colossal blunder that college sports’ governing body will someday come to regret.
According to reports, the sanctions to be handed down Monday will likely be more damaging than even a one-year death penalty would have been. Crowds of Americans will cheer because we all love punishment.
But this is 100% the wrong move by a governing body that so often makes the wrong move.
Emmert and the NCAA know that PSU is being annihilated in the court of public opinion. Don’t think that the NCAA’s decision to pile on Penn State doesn’t have something to do with a feeling that the body can actually make people applaud it for once. Quite simply, they’ve read the poll numbers and decided to do what everyone wants — punish somebody. Anybody. Even coaches, athletic staff and players who had absolutely nothing to do with the Jerry Sandusky situation.
(Sidenote — Anyone else find it odd that we as a people always want some other person punished for their misdeeds, but when we ourselves err, we beg for forgiveness? What a flawed beast we are.)
In addition to penalizing the innocent, the NCAA is also penalizing those who have already been penalized. Think Penn State grads like having their diplomas on the wall today? Think the school, the administration and the faculty haven’t been shamed already? Think donations and applications haven’t been impacted? Think the football program — which is going through its first coaching change since 1966 — isn’t finding work harder on the recruiting trail?
What more punishment is needed? Joe Paterno is dead. Sandusky will die in prison. Others in PSU’s administration have lost their jobs, been vilified in the press, and may find themselves subject to legal prosecution. Hell, all that’s left is to burn the campus down because bad things happened there at one time.
Making matters worse, the NCAA is apparently nixing its usual methods for punishing schools. There will be no letter of allegations in this case. There will be no waiting period for Penn State to prepare a defense. Penn State won’t even be allowed a defense. The NCAA is expected to act without due process. They are taking the Freeh Report as gospel and will use it as their “Witches Hammer.”
Well, that’s smart. A rush to judgement is always a good thing. Especially in cases like this that will impact hundreds of lives for years to come. Anyone else out there realize that if another legal team had been given the exact same records from Penn State they might have come to completely different conclusions than Louis Freeh and his team?
But here’s how the NCAA is putting itself in a precarious position. Emmert and crew are going to penalize a school for criminal/moral failings. Sounds good. Until you ask where that line gets drawn.
A former NCAA committee on infractions chairperson told ESPN:
“This is unique and this kind of power has never been tested or tried. It’s unprecedented to have this extensive power. This has nothing to do with the purpose of the infractions process. Nevertheless, somehow (the NCAA president and executive board) have taken it on themselves to be a commissioner and to penalize a school for improper conduct…
But this has nothing to do with NCAA business. This is new. If they’re going to deal with situations of this kind that have nothing to do with the games of who plays and so on and rather deal with members of the athletic department who act immorally or criminally then it opens up the door to other cases…
The criminal courts are perfectly capable of handling these situations. This is a new phase and a new thing. They are getting into bad behavior that are somehow connected to those who work in the athletic department.”
What if Sandusky had been running a Ponzi scheme out of his Penn State office of years, for example? Let’s say he’d bilked thousands of people out of millions of dollars. Ruined countless lives in the process. Now let’s suppose Penn State officials had known/suspected what was up and looked the other way. Would the NCAA rush in to smash the football program?
Now let’s bring it a little closer to home. Let’s say your alma mater or favorite football or basketball program had an assistant coach on staff who battered women. Folks in the athletic office knew about it. They’d heard rumors that the women in the coach’s life often carried bruises and cuts. But the school didn’t act until a woman was hospitalized. Should the NCAA come in and punish your favorite program?
What if a woman were killed?
What if your school kept covering up for a serial drunk-driving coach right up until the day he ran someone down?
Where is the line to be drawn? And do you trust the people in the NCAA office to be the ones drawing it?
I know that many people will view this post as a defense of Penn State. It’s not. If you claim that’s what it is then you either a) didn’t read this piece in full or b) you wanted to change the facts to suit your own argument.
In this writer’s view — put simply — PSU has already gotten what it deserved… a terrible stain on its reputation. How many times can the same people be burned at the stake?
Some of you may like that the NCAA is blasting Penn State’s program. But if the NCAA were about to crush your favorite program for the exact same acts, here’s betting the vast, vast majority of you would be saying that the problem isn’t a sports issue but a legal one and that the NCAA shouldn’t be getting involved.
Again, when someone else screws up, we want blood. When we ourselves screw up, we want mercy.
In this case, Penn State screwed up. And the NCAA’s going to give us blood. But what about the next time a school has criminal or immoral behavior on its campus? Will the NCAA get involved? And will you be in favor of it?
This is as dumb a move as could possibly be made. It will come back to bite the NCAA squarely in its rear in the future. In fact, this one action may well become Emmert’s legacy. That’s how big, unusual, and reactionary this move is.
God help them.
(And to all the many radio hosts who’ve argued with me over the past few weeks saying that the NCAA would not act even though public opinion would call for it to do so… told ya so.)