Penn State NCAA Punishment Hurts Even More Innocent Bystanders


It is hard to say that the recent punishment levied by the NCAA on Penn State is surprising. After all, there was quite a bit of serious discussion as to whether the program deserved the death penalty. In the end, NCAA President Mark Emmert stopped just shy of ending the football program, and by doing that it is possible that the punishment will effectively kill the entire athletic department good and dead. There are plenty of people who will see this punishment as just. It is hard to work up an awful lot of pity for a program that looked the other way as children were being abused on an apparently regular basis. The problem with this punishment is that it hurts more innocent kids in a vain attempt to show that the NCAA will not allow such actions.

You’ve probably seen the level of damage that the NCAA has inflicted at this point:

$60 million fine (Emmert says that is equal to one year of gross revenue for the football program) 4 year ban from postseason/bowl play New scholarships reduced to 15 per year for the next 4 years. All wins vacated from 1998 to 2011 (the period of time the school was covering up these allegations) 5 years probation (meaning that if the football program violates an NCAA rule over that time period, the death penalty will likely follow) All current members of the team may transfer without having to sit out a year (as is customary).

Most people will point to that last one as proof that the NCAA is looking out for the kids who are currently on the football team. Allowing anyone who wants, to jump ship is a relatively easy way of saying that “we don’t blame you” for what has happened in NCAA administrative terms. The problem arises in the long term effects that this punishment will have on the university.

You might notice that among the punishment handed out, there is nothing, not even a slap on the wrist for the men who were actually at fault. You might say that it is hard to further punish someone who is dead (former head coach Joe Paterno) or in jail (sexual abuser Jerry Sandusky) but there are people like former Penn State President Graham Spanier who is still out there. It certainly seems unlikely that Spanier will ever get another job in a collegiate setting, but why not make sure? Why not issue lifetime bans for any coaches or administrative personnel who had even an inkling of what was going on?

The NCAA tends to mete out punishment “to the school,” claiming that is the most fair way to deal with situations like this. The problem is that the people who are really going to be hurt had absolutely nothing to do with the crime. The football players might be able to leave if they want (if they have no ties to the community or have no problem possibly going away to school, thousands of miles away from their homes). What about the rest of the athletic department? What about the basketball teams or the soccer teams or the swim teams? For most athletic programs the football team is the money maker and funds the rest of the program. That disproportionate funding is even more evident when the football program is as successful as Penn State’s was.

The school has just had $60 million taken away. The Big 10 just piled on by announcing that they will be cutting Penn State out of the bowl money pool during the time when the school is not allowed to participate in the post-season.

Penn State deserved to be punished. They deserved to get slapped down. The school’s administration did so much wrong it is hard to conceive how they could look themselves in the mirror. The punishment, unfortunately has been handled in such a way that it will catch even more innocent kids up in its snare. Why were such obvious solutions, such as lifetime bans either ignored or rejected?