A Dialogue

In reading about the State of Pennsylvania’s recent decision to take the NCAA to court to force that group to rescind the sanctions brought against Penn State University for the Sandusky scandal I was going back and forth on the issue, which engendered the following dialogue:

PRO: I think the State has every right to take this action. As they have said, it was a criminal action that Sandusky was duly tried for and the University (and the state which contributes $200,000 a year to the university) should net be penalized for that man’s actions — especially since he has been punished.

CON: True, but the football program at the University is culpable since they were clearly aware of what Sandusky was doing and chose to look the other way. In addition, not only the head coach knew what was going on, but apparently the Administration knew and also chose to look the other way. Furthermore, the board of governors needs to take responsibility for what is going on in the university and should never have allowed Joe Paterno to have as much power as he obviously had.

PRO: Yes, but the NCAA has entirely too much power. They ran the AIAW out of business back in the early days of Title IX  and were slow in recognizing the importance of women’s sports, and they effectively have rendered the NAIA irrelevant. They are really the only game in town, which raises the specter of anti-trust. In this case they acted without full knowledge of the events and handed out a very harsh punishment that affects the entire student body and players who were not involved in any sort of cover-up and should not be punished.

CON: True, the NCAA is a very powerful body but it fills a need. Can you imagine what intercollegiate sports would be like without a watchdog like the NCAA keeping an eye on things? The corruption we see now would be ten times worse without a group like the NCAA playing the role of watchdog. In this case they may have acted peremptorily, but they knew (as we all did) that blame went all the way the chain of command at the university and how else were they supposed to act if they didn’t punish the football program and the university as a whole? If they have the power to hand down sanctions, as they do, then they have the power — and the right — to punish the football program and even the university itself with fines and the reduction of scholarships.

And so it goes. Back and forth. I do know one thing: the NCAA’s attempts to throw up a red herring by saying that “[this action] is an affront to all of the victims in this tragedy – lives that were destroyed by the criminal actions of Jerry Sandusky” is hogwash. It suggests that the NCAA lawyers know they are on thin ice and are attempting to divert attention away from the central issue, which is whether or not the NCAA acted in accordance with its own rules. If the state of Pennsylvania wins its case it will severely hamper the ability of the NCAA in the future to hand down sanctions for breach of its many rules. If it loses, the power of the NCAA which is already tremendous, will grow exponentially. And this for a group that already takes in $845 million a year in non-taxable revenue and seems determined to increase that amount in any way it can.

What do you think?

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7 thoughts on “A Dialogue

  1. I must admit I don’t understand all the ramifications of the NCAA and its actions. Admitting that, I have no problem with the university having a huge fine and sanctions against playing in post-season games. Your first “con” says it all. Since we as citizens don’t have an input on how government assigned fines to corporations, for example, are spent, why is the state and university trying to dictate how this fine is disbursed?

  2. It is interesting in that before NCAA President Mark Emmert hit Penn State with the penalties he did — basing his ruling on court decisions in the Sandusky case and the Freeh Report and not a separate NCAA investigation, which was a first — a lot of critics had said the NCAA was too weak or too inconsistent when it came to enforcing its regulations. And that critique was true: only rarely did any sanctions against even extreme violators ever lead to loss of revenue or affect a team’s performance for long. USC, for instance, just two years after being “penalized” for a lot of nasty infractions was already back in a bowl game this year.

    No, the action against Penn State is what a lot of people have wanted the NCAA to do for a long time — actually use the muscle it purportedly has to lay down a just punishment. The more interesting thing will be to see if the NCAA applies the same tough approach to future infractions.

    It also exposes even more the weird makeup of the NCAA, which is a coalition of private entities and very large public entities. These universities have willingly joined the NCAA. If they don’t like it, they can go to the NAIA, or form a whole new organization. The flip side of that is, of course, that state and federal government agencies have an awful lot of authority over public universities’ athletic programs which they rarely flex. State Rep. Marty Seifert of Minnesota was excoriated a few years back when he tried to even have a discussion about reining in the pay of top University of Minnesota coaches. Governors, legislatures almost have an obligation to do, not what the state of Pennsylvania is doing, but the opposite — make big-time college sports at public universities toe the same lines of ethics, behavior and fiscal responsibility as they do any other government agency or department. But as you said forcefully in A Higher Level, Hugh, no one has the political guts to tell big-time colleges to make their sports teams behave.

    Back to the Penn State case specifically, the state — which stayed out of Paterno’s football hair for decades — should stay out of this now, too. The punishment is just, maybe even too light, and it’s about time someone at the state level there in Pennsylvania (other than the attorney general, who has been candid about it throughout the Sandusky mess) simply says, “yes, this was wrong, we’re sorry, and we will support the sanctions.”

  3. Hugh, great post and you show how complex an issue it is. Here is where I come down and that is on failure of leadership. The University President and its patriacrh, Joe Paterno, both knew long before of the behavior of Jerry Sandusky. Their failure to act put more innocent young boys in harms way. As a parent, the school and football program should be punished, so that this does not happen again. We need leaders to be accountable and not try to save a brand image. You actually will save the image by doing the right thing. The Catholic Church suffers today for not learning this lesson. Your pros/ cons are excellent. Thanks, BTG

  4. I say a pox on both their houses! The NCAA is as corrupt as the “educational institutions” that are its members. See Joe Nocera’s columns in the New York Times!

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