Monday, July 23, 2012

NCAA vs. Penn State: Too Little

The child abuse/sex scandal at Penn State that has come to light over the last year is now being addressed by the NCAA. The NCAA has punished the school by vacating all wins since 1998 (the year of the initial issues), by imposing a four-year post-season ban, and by fining the school $60 million dollars (about one year’s football revenue). The fine will go into an endowment for "external programs preventing child sexual abuse or assisting victims and may not be used to fund such programs at the university” (from article).

In a nutshell, assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was accused in 1998 of child sexual abuse. The school apparently covered it up, successfully, until last year. Sandusky was found guilty and now faces up to fifteen years in prison (which is effectively a life sentence for for the 68 year old).

So what of the penalty? Too light. Way too light.

The vacating of wins is meaningless. Joe Paterno will still be recognized as having those wins, even though they won’t show up on his record. The players still won those games and the other teams still lost them. In short, no one cares that these wins are taken away. The old adage rings true: “Scoreboard, baby.”

The four-year post-season ban is mostly meaningless in the big picture. But no one really cares. When it’s over, no one will care.

The $60 million dollar fine is more significant, but it’s one year’s revenue from the football program. It won’t be missed all that much.

Compare this to the “death penalty” given to Southern Methodist University in 1987. Two whole seasons were cancelled for … wait for it … paying players under the table. Today, that offense is so common it doesn’t even merit much consideration by the NCAA.

And a child abuse scandal receives less than paying players under the table.

Not a good move by the NCAA.

Here’s what should have happened to Penn State, in addition to what has already happened.

Penn State should have received a ten-year ban from college sports. The ban would be reviewable in five years if Penn State has taken appropriate actions to make restitution to the children and families involved, to completely separate themselves in every way from anyone who was connected with this cover up (including the immediate termination of any and all payments such as health insurance, pensions, benefits, etc), and to institute policies so that this never happens again.

In addition, Penn State must hire an outside overseer chosen by the NCAA, and must subject itself to regular reviews by an oversight board to whom the outside overseer is accountable.

The NCAA needs to send a stronger message to its member schools, and to the college sports industry: “If you do this, we will come down hard. Very hard.”

The NCAA has shown it can tolerate a lot of stuff. Now they have shown a willingness to tolerate more.

This was a chance for the NCAA to send a real message. They could have said, “If there are other schools in a similar state, now is the time to come clean. Fess up. And you will receive the same treatment as Penn State. If we find out about this after close of business today, the penalty will be worse.”

But they didn’t.

They missed a chance. Sadly.

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