I think the NCAA punishment of Penn State is a disgraceful farce! Here’s why:
While I can understand the desire to protect the institution, I do not pretend to know what went on in the heads of the four men at the center of this scandal – Paterno, Spanier, Curley and Schultz. Perhaps it is because I am in a business with reporting requirements, but to me this is brain dead. If someone says he witnessed the sexual abuse of a child, you go to the authorities. Preferably you facilitate the witness going to the authorities. Had that happened at the time, it would have been a big story, but it would have blown over. The University would have been seen as doing the right thing. What these four men did in the name, presumably, of protecting the institution has done incalculably more harm.
I didn’t read the whole Freeh report. I’m not that much of a glutton for punishment, but I did read the Executive Summary and the Timeline. I recommend everyone do so to get a feel for what the issues are. Those parts are entirely tolerable reading.
That said, this is NOT an NCAA issue. This is not about recruiting violations, academic cheating, performance enhancing drugs or some other issue that has to do with maintaining a level playing field in college sports. This is the NCAA doing something just to say it’s doing something. It is public outrage as a form of supposed action. It is an exercise in “I’m more outraged than thou.”
This is not unrelated to what Thomas Fleming calls the “pornography of compassion” that we see every time there is a shooting or whatever. The Colorado shooting has nothing to do with politics, other than perhaps the gun control issue, but Obama and Romney both felt the need to release statements, halt campaign activities, etc. Obama even flies in for a grandstanding photo op. This is shameless, but these days it is expected. Had either not done so they would have been accused of insensitivity at best, and condoning mass shootings at worst.
Precisely what NCAA rule was Penn State accused of violating? I’m sure there is some vague catchall rule that could be broadly interpreted to cover this, but moral policeman is not the NCAA’s mandate. Ensuring against cheating is. The NCAA sticking their nose in here where it doesn’t belong after the fact after other investigative authorities have done the heavy lifting is both grandstanding for granstanding’s sake and analogous to an ex post facto law. Was Paterno paying players under the table? Was he shooting them in the butt with steroids? No one has suggested such. Penn State was as squeaky clean from this standpoint as any major college football team as far as we know. So the NCAA needs to but out and do what it is supposed to do (albeit poorly), police cheating.
To understand why this is grandstanding for the sake of doing something and the likely equally powerful sake of not being accused of doing nothing, ask yourself this. What if Sandusky had been accused of embezzling funds from Second Mile for personal gain instead of child molestation? Would these same penalties have been handed down if Paterno and company had been aware of that and failed to disclose it? So the issue here is wanting to be seen as sufficiently outraged at Sandusky’s actions and the Penn State Admin’s failure, not the technical offense.
The most ridiculous part of the sanctions is “vacating” the wins. You have got to be kidding me. “Vacating” wins is utter foolishness and hopefully sensible people will refuse to play along. Paterno is still the winningest coach in NCAA history and Penn State still won all those games and no amount of magical thinking on the part of the NCAA will ever change that.
Penn State has apparently signed on to these penalties. They likely had no real choice. Had they not they would have been accused of being insufficiently contrite. But I wish they would sue the NCAA’s pants off for their capriciousness.
There is something unsettling to me about this culture that requires visible public outrage (or obnoxious expressions of compassion about misfortunes that didn’t impact you) or else you are guilty by implication of condoning whatever behavior is being publicly condemned. This same dynamic is also one thing that gives the PC Gestapo such power. I hope our readers can see this.