It may have made many feel good to see the NCAA punish “Penn State” as they did, but the penalty was egregious, purposeless, and hit the innocent rather than the guilty.
Again I must start a Penn State post with acknowledgement of the horrifying acts committed by Jerry Sandusky, and express deep empathy for the victims.
Sandusky and those who enabled him either have been or will be punished, severely. But what about the “institution”, known as “Pennsylvania State University”, what should happen to “it”? It is not a person, after all. It is a university, a school, an institution. It is a holding place for students, faculty, and an administration that changes over time.
The NCAA saw fit to impose the following sanctions:
1. A $60 million fine.
2. 4 year post-season ban (no bowl games).
3. Vacated all Penn State football wins back to 1998 (making Bobby Bowden of Florida State, not Joe Paterno of Penn State, the winningest coach in college football history).
4. 20 scholarships eliminated.
On the surface this seems like a reasonable penalty. But on further reflection, who is punished by these penalties? Who loses as a result of them?
The answer is, all the wrong people. The losers are the innocent students, alumni, and players of Penn State.
If one reads the detailed report by Louis Freeh on the Penn State tragedy (found here), there are 5 individual villains, and one “committee villain”. The individuals are of course Jerry Sandusky; the President of the University Graham Spanier; the Athletic Director Tim Curley; the Vice President of Operations Gary Schultz; and Head Coach Joe Paterno (note: based on the details in the report, Freeh barely scratched Joe Paterno, and the coach’s involvement continues to be unfairly exaggerated). The “committee” villain is the Penn State Board of Trustees.
Excluding the NCAA penalties, what happened or will happen to these villains? Spanier, Curley, and Schultz have lost their jobs, will go on trial for perjury and obstruction and endangering minors, and will spend the rest of their lives in jail, court, fighting lawsuits, and in disgrace. They are ruined men, as well they should be. Joe Paterno is dead, and he has been slandered well beyond his level of guilt. His reputation is in tatters (again, unfairly in my mind), his statue was taken down, his record as the winningest coach is gone. (note: His statue was taken down, but the millions he donated to build the library and other buildings somehow will not be returned.). Sandusky is in prison and will never see the light of day again.
The Trustees have been wiped out, and all new leadership is in place.
Why, then, does the NCAA feel the need to punish Penn State further? Not one of their punishments effects the guilty parties. The guilty are gone, ruined, disgraced, and soon to be broke or dead or in a jail cell.
Who do the NCAA penalties effect? First and most importantly, the 75 or so current players for Penn State. They came to play for one of the great coaches in history at one of the great football programs and university’s in this country, and now sit on a ruined program for at least the next 4 years. The NCAA kindly allows them to transfer, but anyone with a college-aged child knows the trauma involved in such a situation (10 have decided to transfer so far). These young men had nothing to do with the acts of Jerry Sandusky, or the President of the University, or anyone else.
Who else do they effect? The athletes in all sports at Penn State, male and female. The football program funds the majority of other sports on campus, and penalizing the football program penalizes them all. So add up all the student athletes at Penn State and see how many are being punished for something they had nothing to do with. What role did these people play in Sandusky’s acts? None.
And who else? Alumni, fans, and the Penn State student body. What did these people do wrong?
What about the players on the teams since 1998, 14 years worth of teams likely making up thousands of athletes who busted their backsides to play football for their school and to defeat their opponents? How does it serve these players to vacate their wins? What did they do wrong??
Many people, and the NCAA itself, felt the need to punish someone or something. They couldn’t touch the villains at the university, and so they decided to punish the university itself, as if it was a person. Instead, all it did was punish thousands of innocent people with who hold no guilt whatsoever.