The Penn State sanctions and collateral damage

After it was discovered the Joe Paterno had taken a page out of the Vatican’s playbook (Paterno was Catholic, after all) and had valued the reputation of his football program over protecting prepubescent boys from rape, the NCAA deliberated and has now handed down their sanctions on Penn State for Paterno’s inaction.  They aren’t fucking around.

  • A four-year postseason ban.
  • The loss of twenty scholarships during each of those years.
  • Penn State players are free to leave if they want (and most of them, I suspect, I will do so).
  • They will be stripped of all wins dating back to 1998 (which means Paterno is no longer the winningest coach in history – by a long shot).
  • The school must pay a sixty-million dollar fine.

They are also leaving the door open to handing out further sanctions to individuals.  Good.  These are far and away the most severe penalties the NCAA has ever dished out.  It will take the program 15-20 years to recover.  And yet the punishment falls infinitely short of fitting the crime.

Sadly, football at schools like Penn State are very much tied to academics.  At these institutions you can watch the enrollment numbers fluctuate with the success of the football/basketball teams.  So it becomes very difficult to punish the football team and the administrators who enabled Paterno without punishing the employees and students at the university for something they had no hand in.  At some point you do have to stop punishing them, even if it means those responsible are getting off the hook way too light.

I do like how the university is responding.  They fully accepted the NCAA’s sanctions.  University president Rodney Erickson’s statement was very classy.  He has even said the NCAA was generous.  He’s right.  They also tore down the statue of Paterno despite displeasure from the fans/community.  They did it expediently and were right to do so.

The “death penalty” from the NCAA is to shut a program down for a year.  This was certainly on the table.  The NCAA didn’t do that because they didn’t wish to punish the scholarship athletes for the failures of administration and coaches.  Erickson thanked the NCAA for that and I think they made the right call.

The take home lesson is simple: colleges exist for the purpose of education.  I like college sports as much as the next guy, but the sports should never, ever, ever even come close to being as big an issue as academics.  That we’ve gotten to this point is incredibly sad, and I wish the NCAA would also take this as an impetus to start finding ways to diminish athletics from the overall picture of universities.

Then you can punish people like Paterno without also punishing the students for his crimes.

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