NCAA Penalties for Penn State: How Much Is Enough?
$60 million is a heavy-duty fine. Four years suspension is bound to hurt. Losing 14 years of wins will be felt and stripping the winningest coach of his record would sure hurt him if he was alive to feel it. Losing scholarships is bound to hurt the school.
It all adds up to some serious action and significant cost. We all get the desire by NCAA to make a point that children need to be protected and any who shield child molesters need to be called out on their cowardly complicity. We are all agreed. Outrage is real and, the more the facts have built the case of Jerry Sandusky’s terrible history in victimizing vulnerable kids, the greater our incredulity that this could have happened at all and for so long.
So far, the charity Sandusky used as his cover seems to be escaping scrutiny; no one seems interested to ask what policies they had in place to protect the kids, what supervision they gave to their volunteers, how they ensured that their volunteers were not sexual predators, why they would allow one adult to be in sole charge of any kid without accountability and supervision, . . . The first gate keepers were the charity Sandusky used to make his opportunities and select his victims. Anybody who works with kids knows that these basic protections have to be in place and maintained: no exceptions. Sandusky is ample proof of that. Do they escape scrutiny because they don’t have deep pockets?
But today it is Penn State’s turn to feel the fire. The investigation has revealed complicity and enablement, and therefore someone must pay. There must be changes and they must be significant. There is culpability since moral, ethical as well as legal obligations have been neglected. Innocent kids have been harmed as a direct result. To an outsider, it appears that the NCAA is making an example of Penn State in the hope that it will scare others into compliance. We realize is that if all is not well at Penn State, it probably isn’t so great in other places too. So, we can stand agreed that action by the NCAA is warranted and welcome. If Penn State hasn’t done the right thing, it needs to be forced into getting its act together. Be warned!
When we look at the penalties we see they fall into two categories: punishing those who may have benefitted (or were most responsible for neglecting the crimes that were happening with their knowledge – or despite their knowledge); and prevention – placing deterrents to force desirable changes.
It’s not clear exactly how the NCAA suffered loss through this situation or how their action helps resolve it, but as a coordinating body with some ability to apply pressure to the school, they are willing to speak up and force change. This is in addition to any criminal investigation and proceedings that law enforcement may undertake.
Punishing those who benefitted.
Stripping the school of past victories and stripping the coach of his record. Both seem designed to strike at the school but it is a wide target. The players who have lost their wins were not party to Sandusky’s actions, so they need to be punished and shamed? They are a mere side-effect to the need to strike at the school, but they too will pay the price. Paterno is dead so he won’t be too worried about this action. His statue has been removed along with his legacy. That leaves the senior officials at Penn State (who are the real targets of this action) to be removed from office and humiliated: they failed to take the action they knew was necessary. [We conveniently forget about the assistant who brought all this to their attention - he is absolved from his responsibility to stop the act he witnessed and speak up to prevent a recurrence (not to mention reporting the abuse directly to police and Child Protective Services) because he worked with the prosecution years after the event? Doing the right thing eventually doesn’t make you the good guy.]
Prevention – placing deterrents to force desirable changes.
$60 million fines and bans of future games. Now we start to wrestle with the hard stuff. What exactly was the loss suffered by the NCAA and could it possibly amount to $60 million? No idea? Well evidently they have a legal right to fine Penn State but the issue becomes, what do they do with this money? If they suffered no loss, how do they justify taking this money? It’s starting to look like they are taking it because they can. This money is not designated to assist the victims, it has nothing to do with the victims, and there is no intention of giving this huge sum to the victims (even if they needed it.) This money is loosely ear-marked to protecting other kids in other places from the sort of abuse fostered by Penn State – that would be a good thing if it happens. It looks remarkably like they are grabbing it because they can, not because they have a serious plan.
The bans on future games will have a direct impact on Penn State and on its football program. It will hurt. But again, we have a wide target which this time makes victims of the current players. They will pay the price of changing schools or losing career aspirations, their lives will be changed because of actions and events far beyond their control. Losing scholarships will affect the next generation of players . . . it just rolls on, flattening all who stand in its path.
It is reassuring the NCAA is determined to set and enforce a high standard on Penn State. At issue here is the target of their action. It’s picking up a lot of innocent people and it will hurt them significantly. The underlying problem is that our sense of guilt and outrage cannot be eased by adding fresh victims to the mix. We desperately need someone to carry away the blame so we can feel good about ourselves again. We want, in the best sporting tradition, to be seen to have done the right thing (never mind it’s way too late) and we want someone to pay – anyone, just not us! We want a scape-goat to enter the scene, take all the guilt and blame on himself, and then walk far away from us so we can forget our failures and start afresh with our lives. We don’t care if the scapegoat deserves to be treated in this way, we just need it to happen. [It did. His name is Jesus: he carried away the sins and evils of the people of earth. We can admit our faults to him and know that he will carry them away from us, breaking the endless cycles of guilt and fresh victimization we experience. We can start again, free from the tangled mess of the past.]
It is incredibly sad that innocent kids have been hurt by a demented individual, that others didn’t do what they could have done to stop him sooner. It’s unnerving to realize the ease with which this happened and to know that it is being repeated in other places even now. We feel powerless and we want to lash out. The problem is that creating new victims doesn’t fill the bill.
Congratulations NCAA on taking stern action, thank you for doing something. But you need to do more: you can directly force all your schools to adopt and police real and effective child protection policies, you can help to shut the gate. That would be better than creating new victims while you run off with the money - use it to fund prevention and monitoring of your schools, show you have a coherent plan, show that you are serious about prevention. Outrage is a strong motivator but a harsh taskmaster. An ounce of prevention is worth far more than tons of repressive cure.
- Why Any NCAA Penalty on Penn State Is Too Much (bleacherreport.com)
- WHEELER: NCAA Gets It Wrong On Penn State (stlouis.cbslocal.com)
- Andy Staples: Penn State players face difficult choice in wake of crippling sanctions (sportsillustrated.cnn.com)