Penn State NCAA Sanctions Go Too Far


Remember when your mom taught you that two wrongs don’t make a right?

The NCAA didn’t get the memo.

People across the country rejoiced this morning when the NCAA announced Penn State’s unprecedented punishment: a $60 million fine, severe restrictions on football scholarships, a four year postseason ban, and the elimination from the record books of every Penn State football season since 1997. 

At first, I celebrated too. Penn State’s unforgivable cover up of Jerry Sandusky’s heinous, rampant child abuse clearly warrants severe penalties for those who are guilty of wrongdoing. Yet instead of dealing with wrongdoers, these punishments deal primarily with individuals who are not guilty of anything, or even of covering anything up. As usual, the NCAA did what was best for the NCAA — punishing Penn State’s current players, coaches, students, and fans for the unpardonable sins of Penn State’s previous administration makes no sense, and is not fair, but it sure makes the NCAA look good.

Though NCAA President Mark Emmert this morning claimed that “football will never again be placed ahead of educating, nurturing and protecting young people,” even a cursory review of Penn State’s sanctions reveals that Penn State’s new status quo will fall short of such a lofty ideal. Reducing Penn State’s football scholarships to 65 from 85 will deny innocent football players the chance to gain the benefit of a free education from a school that has at least maintained its sterling academic reputation.  Since a recent report revealed that 85% of top-tier college football players live below the poverty line, there can be no doubt that football scholarships are increadibly important to many aspiring student-athletes. Yet for the next four years, 20 innocent student-athletes will serve as collateral damage for the NCAA’s misguided discipline.

Though a hefty fine is clearly appropriate, the NCAA’s decision to set the fine at the total amount of Penn State’s annual football revenue will have a broad impact on the university as a whole. Despite the NCAA’s directive that the money should not have a negative impact on the school’s academic mission, or on other sports, the NCAA has no way of controlling the fact that a sudden loss of $60 million dollars will impact Penn State’s spending decisions regardless. Since the NCAA decided to fine Penn State not the football program’s total profit, but the program’s total revenue, next year’s Penn State football team will need to find money for equipment, transportation, and other routine expenses from somewhere else within the university’s budget. Unless Penn State chooses to suspend their football program for next season, the money has to come from somewhere, and it is either disingenuous or ignorant for the NCAA to pretend otherwise. As a result, projects whose funding will ultimately shift to funding the football team next year constitute yet another thoughtless casualty of the NCAA’s punishment. Instead, the NCAA should have pegged the fine to the football program’s expected profits.

Penn State’s four year ban on postseason play further victimizes Penn State’s current players. The ban on postseason play, which typically features the highest-pressure games against the best competition, will force every competitive player with dreams of a future in the NFL to at least consider uprooting themselves and relocating to a different school and team with very little notice, a tribulation that Penn State’s innocent football players should not have to suffer. The postseason ban, along with Penn State’s forfeiture of 111 wins, add another unnecessary stain to innocent players and fans whose reputations have already been tarnished by virtue of their association with the school.

Our society’s widespread desire to punish, and punish harshly, anyone guilty of this heinous act or indefensible cover-up rightly demonstrates the importance we place on maintaining our children’s safety and innocence. Yet we should look not to the NCAA, but to civil and criminal courts to bring those truly responsible to justice.

The NCAA’s punishments may make the NCAA look good, but they do little to serve justice. Denying a poor kid a chance to go to college for free, damaging the university’s financial health, unsettling and uprooting current players’ lives, and needlessly dragging a large community’s source of pride further through the mud serves no noble purpose, but instead adds more victims to a situation that had far too many to begin with.

Two wrongs don’t make a right.