NCAA Punishment NEVER Fits The Crimes

By Brian P. Dunleavy
July 24, 2012

The NCAA got it wrong.


Even if you believe all of Penn State University needs to be punished for the actions of one man—former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky—banning the current football team from participating in postseason bowl games for the next four years misses the mark. Once again, the NCAA has found a way to punish the players—the so-called student-athletes—for the sins of the adults in charge of them.

In fact, that is the “NCAA Way.”

Look no further than recent decisions regarding violations at the University of Southern California, just for one example. Coaches earning multimillion-dollar salaries, like USC’s former coach Pete Carroll, rarely, if ever, face direct sanctions for skirting NCAA rules. More often, they move on to the next big job—the next big payday (in Carroll’s case, a gig with the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks)—leaving the schools, and their players, to pay the price.

In the Penn State case, I happen to agree with the late Joe Paterno, the school’s long-time head football coach, that Sandusky’s actions were not a “football problem.” It was Sandusky who abused young boys in the football offices, and elsewhere, not the current players, and not the current coaches. Certainly not the incoming freshman football players, all of whom will effectively be banned from postseason play for their entire careers at Penn State, should they choose to stay (the NCAA did at least include a provision allowing the players to transfer without penalty).

And, while Sandusky’s crimes have been proved in court, the level of culpability that can be attributed to Paterno and others at the school remains under the shadow of doubt. I happen to be one of the few who does not see the metaphorical smoking gun in the so-called Freeh Report, perhaps because I’ve actually read it. The report’s findings are damning, but they contain no definitive proof of a concerted effort to cover up Sandusky’s crimes by university officials.

Even so, Penn State will likely take its punishment quietly, in hopes that it will eventually make this horrible story go away. Which only shows that the university holds the concerns of the current players in about as high regard as the NCAA does.

About the only thing that makes sense in all of this is the $60 million fine levied by the NCAA against the school, the proceeds from which will be donated to child abuse-related charities. Kudos to the NCAA on that. However, a better solution might have been to not sanction Penn State’s football team—in other words, allow the program to compete in the postseason—but force the school to donate all proceeds it earns over, say, the next 10 years, to child abuse-related charities. That way, the players could play, the coaches could coach, and charities would benefit, to the tune of much more than $60 million.

The NCAA had to do something in this case, no doubt. That their response was wrongheaded should come as no surprise to anyone who has been watching how the organization works over the past 30 years or so. As more facts emerge on this case in the months to come, it will be interesting to see if the NCAA corrects itself, and alters its decree today in any way.

Frankly, I wouldn’t bet on it.


About the author: Brian P. Dunleavy is a writer who lives in New York.



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