The NCAA's Sanctimonious Sanctions Against Penn State

What Women Really Think
July 23 2012 1:29 PM

The NCAA's Sanctimonious Sanctions Against Penn State

149092723
The site where the statue of former Penn State University football coach Joe Paterno once stood outside Penn State's Beaver Stadium.

Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Does anyone else have mixed feelings about the NCAA sanctions against Penn State football? On the one hand, I’m persuaded that the university’s leaders tacitly allowed Jerry Sandusky’s abuse of children to go on for years because they were blinded by a “culture of reverence for the football program.” Josh Levin argued last week that this calls for sidelining the Nittany Lions for a season or two. I see the argument for that, as long as the players can transfer to other schools without having to sit out a season.

Emily Bazelon Emily Bazelon

Emily Bazelon is a staff writer at the New York Times Magazine and the author of Sticks and Stones

The NCAA did provide for transfers without penalty today. But I’m still queasy about how it went about grabbing the moral high ground. The $60 million fine Penn State will pay is supposed to go to “an endowment for external programs preventing child sexual abuse or assisting victims.” That sounds unassailable—except why is the NCAA setting up such an endowment? Shouldn’t this be part of the settlement the university will surely have to reach with Sandusky’s victims? I’m not sure what the NCAA is doing in preempting that process. It makes more sense for a judge overseeing all this litigation to approve one global resolution, after the parties have hammered it out. I’m all for setting aside money for prevention along with compensation. But I don’t see why the governing body of college sports should butt in to the judicial system here.

Advertisement

That’s especially the case given the NCAA’s suspect history and continuing questionable treatment of individual athletes. If you’ve been reading Joe Nocera’s work on this in the New York Times, you know what I’m talking about. The governing body of college sports has a lot to answer for, and all too often seems to put sports ahead of education. So it’s galling to hear NCAA president Mark Emmert now intone, invoking the Penn State sanctions, that “football will never again be placed ahead of educating, nurturing and protecting young people.” Please. Of course it will, every other day of the year.

It’s also odd that the NCAA acted without the usual process of a hearing in front of its Committee on Infractions. Emmert decided that Louis Freeh’s damning report about the university, which Penn State’s own trustees ordered, would take the place of further examination. Why bypass the usual process— what’s the rush?

I also don’t quite understand the idea of “vacating” all of those wins going back to 1998. Maybe the problem is that vacate is such an odd word here. But I’m also not sure what I think about penalizing all the players and coaches who made those victories happen. It just doesn’t seem like the right way to rectify the wrongs.

The NCAA also banned Penn State from postseason play and reduced the team’s annual scholarship allotment from 25 to 15, with each penalty in effect for four years. I see the point: Make the university itself suffer, by crippling what has been one of its greatest assets. And yet, once more, I’m not even sure how much I can get behind this. Why penalize the current and future athletic department, which is no longer led by the people who failed to stop Sandusky? I’d rather see former Penn State President Graham Spanier prosecuted.

The NCAA is coming down not on the individual wrongdoers, but on every Penn State fan. I know some of them are acting crazy in their slavish adoration of JoePa. But many more are surely already punishing the university and themselves. That, plus the civil lawsuits, should be enough.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Secret Service Director Julia Pierson Resigns

Piper Kerman on Why She Dressed Like a Hitchcock Heroine for Her Prison Sentencing

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

Homeland Is Good Again! For Now.

Politics

Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Music

How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

The U.S. Has a New Problem in Syria: The Moderate Rebels Feel Like We’ve Betrayed Them

We Need to Talk: A Terrible Name for a Good Sports Show by and About Women

Trending News Channel
Oct. 1 2014 1:25 PM Japanese Cheerleader Robots Balance and Roll Around on Balls
  News & Politics
Crime
Oct. 1 2014 4:15 PM The Trials of White Boy Rick A Detroit crime legend, the FBI, and the ugliness of the war on drugs.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 2:16 PM Wall Street Tackles Chat Services, Shies Away From Diversity Issues 
  Life
The Eye
Oct. 1 2014 1:04 PM An Architectural Crusade Against the Tyranny of Straight Lines
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 3:02 PM The Best Show of the Summer Is Getting a Second Season
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 4:26 PM How to Measure the Value of Your Personal Data in Cookies: A Slate Guide
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.