College Football: The Right Answer Regarding the NCAA and Penn St.

Everyone, even Nick Saban, seems obliged to comment on the Penn St. matter.

I have been waiting and waiting for an article that makes sense about Penn St. regarding the NCAA's role for a long time. I had planned on writing one myself, but fortunately, Sports Illustrated's Michael Rosenberg has stepped into the breach, thrown out his disgust and emotional overreaction, put on his thinking cap and demonstrated the first reasoned argument about the NCAA's role in this horrible scandal that I have read.

I have stated several times in comments and Linkapaloozas that I thought the NCAA did not belong in the Penn St. scandal. Rosenberg lists five fundamental reasons why they should not, and expounds on each one of them. The reasons follow, and I have mostly added my own commentary as to their justification. Rosenberg's reasons are similar but more expansive than mine, so I've basically borrowed them and added my own comments to supplement his.

  • There were only a few people directly responsible for the crime and cover-up.

    The reason this is important is that this wasn't a campus-wide corruption that resonated throughout Penn St.'s leadership at every level. It was confined mostly to four people other than Sandusky himself. These people, who included Joe Paterno, conspired to cover up Sandusky's criminal behavior and rationalize it away. None of them are still there, and Paterno is no longer even corporeal.

  • Punishing Penn St. for criminal acts is not the NCAA's job.

    Criminal acts are punished through state and federal criminal laws. State and federal civil laws provide for redressing the injury to persons and families. The NCAA has no provision to address either one of these things in their bylaws.

    The NCAA is designed mainly to deal with issues of unfair competition. Yes, it is possible to stretch general provisions of the bylaws to cover the Penn St. scandal, but the bylaws were designed to address competitive issues, not lawbreaking or civil remedy. Those things are far removed from their purview and are in fact expressly covered by other jurisdictions. The NCAA should not wade in and try to impress the public by distorting their mandate beyond recognition.
  • If the NCAA gets involved, the wrong people get punished.

    Many of the people agitating for the "Death Penalty" rightly complain all the time that the NCAA punishes the innocent rather than the guilty. Do we really want them to extend this same problem to issues that are clearly and deliberately outside their jurisdiction?

    The NCAA cannot punish any of the people who participated in this nightmare - none of them are under their jurisdiction anymore. The NCAA would have to punish mostly innocent bystanders by throwing the entire school, all it's innocent students and employees under the bus in order to "send a message" of intolerance of such dreadful misbehavior in general.

    Folks, that "message," which is that we as a nation do not tolerate child rape, was sent a long time ago to the individuals involved in the crime and subsequent cover-up, and to the school and fans in terms of article after article reviling them. The principles will further get that message as some or hopefully all of them wind up in prisons for long stretches. There will be civil ramifications for all those worthies, and civil lawsuits that stretch into infinity, many of which the school itself will have to defend. Who will wind up paying for them? The very people the NCAA would wind up punishing -- people who had no role whatever in the crime and its subsequent cover up.

    For the NCAA to come in and pile on to no actual effect other than to punish the innocent could only make sense to the emotionally overwrought, and although I can understand the strong emotional reaction on the part of the public, the NCAA owes it to it's membership to be more rational and measured in its response.

  • An NCAA punishment would not accomplish it's objective.

    For this one, I'll just quote Rosenberg:
    Effectively, the NCAA would be saying: "Jail and public humiliation were not punishment enough. We need to take away the ability to win football games." The NCAA would be making football seem more important, not less important.
    Exactly. Why would you elevate an amateur sport above legitimate matters of public concern?

  • It would set a bad precedent.

    This is a situation the NCAA rules were not written to address. The rules were written to address ineligible athletes competing, cheating by coaches and a school's athletics interests, and other issues of unfair competition between schools.

    One thing some people don't seem to understand is that none of these men violated NCAA rules. Every one of them was acting not as an athletics representative, but as a member of the school administration, and the matters of concern in this case were non-athletic. The NCAA rules don't provide for the sanction of a program if the coach commits, for example, tax evasion. There is simply nothing in that situation that falls under the NCAA rules. A coach cheating on his taxes does not give a team a competitive advantage, so the NCAA would logically defer to the legal authorities to redress that matter.

    Could the NCAA plausibly stretch their rules to sanction a scofflaw coach, or player? Probably, but until now they never have. Which brings us to precedent.

    Do we really want the NCAA showing us all how elastic their rules can be when they set their mind to it? Never mind the fact that the conduct at issue was never intended to be placed under their jurisdiction. The question is, do we want the NCAA to sanction schools for harboring a child rapist, because let's be honest -- the fact that he was involved with the football program is largely irrelevant. He didn't rape football players or Penn St. students, but young prepubescent boys.

    The next time a school has an administrator who breaks the law, the NCAA could just as easily capture that person's conduct, regardless of where he was employed, as "Lack of institutional control." Once you stretch it out to cover conduct clearly intended to be excluded from the rules (because there are already laws to cover it), how easy would it be to impute any conduct as being relevant to the athletics department?

    Rosenberg has another great example:

    A. A star athlete somewhere else fails a drug test.
    B. The athlete's coach decides to ignore the test.
    C. The kid takes drugs again, gets behind the wheel of a car and hits a pedestrian.

    Would that school get the Death Penalty? I don't think the NCAA wants to set this precedent.
    Do we really think opening this Pandora's Box is worth it?

For me, the biggest issue of all is that the NCAA rules were never meant to redress this situation. The proponents of the "Death Penalty" know that. What they are talking about here is jamming a square peg into a non-existant hole because of a desire to show everyone just how awful they think this conduct is. The "Death Penalty" proponents are unconcerned with who might be harmed, as long as the message is sent. The message is more important, apparently, than anything or anybody else.

It isn't really about punishment or correcting a competitive imbalance, but rather just for show. Proponents don't even seem to consider the fact that that taking the already Byzantine NCAA rules and converting them into a Rube Goldberg machine cannot possibly yield desirable results, or change one person's behavior.

All it can do is demonstrate that if people feel strongly enough about something, they don't really care who gets hurt by the fallout of their wrath as long as their collective anger is assuaged, and apparently more importantly, amply demonstrated.

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