The NCAA's penalties — based on the Penn State Freeh report that was issued just 11 days prior — are undeniably harsh. They include a $60 million fine, elimination of some scholarships and a ban on the school's football program from participating in postseason play for four years. The association also "vacated" all the school's football victories since 1998, a symbolic gesture which, we guess, means the wins never happened.
If only the NCAA could "vacate" Jerry Sandusky's crimes, or Joe Paterno's abdication of responsibility.
Again, this sounds right at first. Penn State's football program enabled terrible crimes, so the program now faces severe sanctions. But what's the point of the sanctions, exactly? They don't punish the individuals actually responsible for Sandusky's crimes. Maybe they have some impact on Paterno's legacy, though that was in tatters anyway.
The best argument one could make for the NCAA's punishment is that it makes a loud, profound point about the perverse culture that grew up around football at Penn State — except, the idea that the NCAA is in a position to make this point is laughable. For one thing, the NCAA rakes in nearly $700 million in television and marketing rights to air college sports. Penn State's football culture was extreme, but not unique — a similar culture exists at plenty of NCAA schools, where sports are a big business with little connection to the traditional functions of a university, and ethical and legal lines are crossed regularly.
You know what would really send a message about the appropriate place of football in a university? If Penn State left the NCAA, turned football into a legitimately amateur club sport, and invited other schools to join.
Instead, Penn State will cough up $60 million (plus $13 million to its conference, the Big Ten). The money will be donated to child-abuse prevention, as it obviously should. But don't forget that Penn State is a state school. It received $272 million from taxpayers this year, and hiked tuition on a student body composed primarily of Pennsylvania residents. Which means, essentially, that the NCAA fined you yesterday. We are Penn State, indeed.
Which brings us back to the state of Pennsylvania. The men and women elected to represent citizens of this commonwealth — the governor and lawmakers — must recognize that Penn State is their problem, and show more leadership in righting the ship. They can start by calling for the school's board of trustees to resign. What's important right now is a clean break with the past, and the leadership that allowed football to become more important than the lives and rights of children.
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