Kudos To The NCAA In Their Historic Penn State Ruling
The National Collegiate Athletic Association handed down a ruling today on the Penn State scandal, fining the program 60 million dollars and imposing significant penalties designed to severely cripple the football organization. This is a historic event, and the NCAA should be commended for taking the steps it did.
The NCAA did not impose the so-called “death penalty”, widely believed to be the harshest punishment the organization can hand down. The death penalty bars a school from competing in a sport for a year, and has only been enacted five times. For Penn State, the NCAA has done something much more nuanced.
This means that Penn State will still have football games, but it will be years before the program reaches the same level of success and prestige it enjoyed prior to the scandal.
The 60 million dollar fine–which is to be paid into a fund to support victims of child abuse and abuse prevention– was chosen as it is roughly equivalent to a year’s revenue from the football program. The NCAA has also ruled that this cannot affect other sports–therefore, if you are a cr0ss-country athlete on a scholarship funded by the football program, you will not lose your money. In addition to this fine, the Big Ten (Penn State’s conference) is taking Penn State’s share of bowl appearance money–which is normally split evenly–and giving it to children’s charities.
Penn State is barred from competing in the postseason for the next four years. That means that for the next two years, the last of the bowl system, Penn State will not be able to play in any of the bowl games, no matter how good their record is. They will also be barred from the first two years of the new playoff system. This will have a significant affect on the talent that they are able to attract, as many student football players are hoping to be drafted in the NFL–and the more national attention they receive, the better their chances.
Penn State will also see a reduction in the amount of scholarships they can give out. Current Penn State players will be eligible to transfer with no penalty–as opposed to the one year most athletes must wait to play after transferring. Expect to see a mass exodus of the most talented Penn State football players.
All of Penn State’s wins from 1998-2011 are vacated, taking away Joe Paterno’s title as the winningest coach in college football history. This is extremely meaningful in the symbolic sense. Joe Paterno was trying to protect his legacy when he looked the other way while his subordinates were abusing children. He put his record before being a decent human being. That legacy is gone now, along with his statue on the Penn State campus. This is what many Penn State supporters have been mourning: the loss of a legend. But he sacrificed his humanity for that legend, and we cannot let that stand.
From the NCAA’s website:
By perpetuating a “football first” culture that ultimately enabled serial child sexual abuse to occur, The Pennsylvania State University leadership failed to value and uphold institutional integrity, resulting in a breach of the NCAA constitution and rules. The NCAA Division I Board of Directors and NCAA Executive Committee directed Association President Mark Emmert to examine the circumstances and determine appropriate action in consultation with these presidential bodies.
“As we evaluated the situation, the victims affected by Jerry Sandusky and the efforts by many to conceal his crimes informed our actions,” said Emmert. “At our core, we are educators. Penn State leadership lost sight of that.”
According to the NCAA conclusions and sanctions, the Freeh Report “presents an unprecedented failure of institutional integrity leading to a culture in which a football program was held in higher esteem than the values of the institution, the values of the NCAA, the values of higher education, and most disturbingly the values of human decency.”
The NCAA got it right when they attacked the culture as being at the root of the problem. Sexual abuse in sports is, unfortunately, common. USA Swimming, the national body that governs competitive swimming, has recently faced criticism as several sanctioned coaches were revealed to be predators: Chris Wheat in Indiana was accused of fondling a young girl he was coaching, and Jesse Stovall, of Florida, was penalized after he was convicted of having sex with an underage swimmer.
It’s not just children who get abused: women are constantly coming forward to talk about being sexually assaulted by star student athletes and having their cases hushed up by university administrations desperate for the revenue brought in by sports. College athletics in Division I schools are big money, and the effects of that money trickles down to the academic programs and to the community. There are countless businesses in the areas surrounding these Div I schools that rely on the influx of people going to games.
Many of the people who have been publicly opposed to this decision focus on the fact that this hurts the entire Penn State community, not just the people who were actively involved in covering it up. To those people: all are complicit in creating a culture where it’s even feasible to stop and think about whether or not you should expose a child molester, let alone deciding to look the other way. The people who were actively responsible have been brought up on charges. They do bear the brunt of the punishment, as well they should. The NCAA is not trying to just be punitive, they are trying to take active steps to change the environment of college athletics, and they should be commended for that.
Sports are important. They’re not just games–sports, politics and cultural change have long been intertwined. If you don’t believe that, I beg you to check out books by Dave Zirin, a sportswriter who focuses on this topic, or his thought-provoking blog, The Edge of Sports. (As an aside, I was shocked to read his take on the NCAA sanctions–for someone who focuses on cultural implications of sports, he doesn’t seem to see how this is about more than punishment.) Can we deny that Jackie Robinson, the first person of color to play Major League Baseball, is a civil rights leader? Or can we deny the powerful statement made in the 1968 Olympics, when black American medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists to show their support for the civil rights movement? What about Title IX, which energized the women’s rights movement and allowed thousands of women to pay for college on athletic scholarships that would not have existed otherwise?
This is not just a story about a sports team in Pennsylvania. This is one of the biggest, most influential organizations in the United States firmly declaring that we need to take a stand against the culture of sports. We let our heroes get away with sexual assault and that trickles down through universities and into our culture, perpetuating the cycle of rape and abuse, and kudos to the NCAA for recognizing that.
What’s your take on the NCAA’s ruling against Penn State? Join the discussion in our comments below!