“Indeed, the culture exhibited at Penn State is an extraordinary affront to the values all members of the Association have pledged to uphold and calls for extraordinary action.” – NCAA Press Release on Penn State
With that statement, the NCAA came down with what it deemed as, “unprecedented” sanctions against Penn State University. For those who haven’t read the full sanctions list, it includes a $60 million fine intended to be used for programs preventing sexual abuse against minors, a four-year bowl ban, a loss of 40 scholarships over four years, five years of probation and monitoring by an NCAA appointed Integrity Monitor, and the vacation of wins from 1998 to present under the Joe Paterno era. Additionally, students currently enrolled in the program or scheduled to begin this fall have the option to freely transfer from Penn State without sitting out the mandatory year.
While these sanctions are truly unprecedented, I can’t help but feel that they missed the mark. What Jerry Sandusky did is unthinkable, disgusting, and has been dealt with through a court of law. He was convicted of 45 counts of sexual abuse, and will spend the remaining years of his life in prison. The unfortunate truth is that there will always be sick and twisted human beings, as the world saw again with the Aurora theatre shootings. What is worse is when decent men, or previously perceived to be decent men, use their power and influence to enable those people to carry out their sick acts. Make no mistake, as the Freeh report clearly states, Paterno, Curley, Spanier, and Schultz could have and should have stopped Sandusky. Any arguments otherwise are immature and inaccurate.
What I have seen from the media, fans, and interested observers is the idea that this should be evaluated like other football related incidents. There were outraged cries before the sanctions that the NCAA wouldn’t act and would again hide in the shadows. But this incident is far above a football issue. This isn’t the same as Ohio State, SMU, or the University of Miami. These were fully grown and trusted adults committing unthinkable acts. There are laws in our constitution that handle these types of issues. Penn State University, with no sanctions against them, would be fighting the image of sexual assault on their campus for many years to come, and at least for the next decade. New recruits would walk through the tarnished locker room on official visits, students will pass the now removed Paterno statue, and families will take graduation photos in front of the Paterno Library. This image will not go away, it will simply fade slightly over time if handled correctly and maturely.
To further evaluate the sanctions, let’s look at the people who are truly affected by these penalties:
1) $60 million ban – This money will come out of the gross revenue of the football program. The Penn State athletic program is the second most profitable program in the country, trailing only Alabama, and most of the money earned by the football program goes toward other sports to help keep them afloat. Money being allocated to the sexual abuse prevention fund will mean less funds for women’s volleyball, softball, men’s wrestling, and all other programs. The positive side is of course the prevention fund, but this could hurt the other student athletes, especially if this scandal causes a decrease in Penn State’s annual athletic donor contributions.
2) Vacation of wins – This sanction really confuses me. Joe Paterno is dead, and his image has taken an enormous hit that will never recover. The players on the field for those games know who won and lost, and the only person who would feel hurt by this has passed away.
3) Loss in Scholarships – The current freshmen class at Penn State would have been born in 1994, the exact same year as Sandusky’s first sexual abuse occurred and four years before the first investigation occurred. These young men had nothing to do with the scandal, yet due to these sanctions, will be affected tremendously, second only to the victims and their families. These freshmen, if they are unable to transfer, which is likely due to most schools having filled their scholarships by now, will play for three or four more years with a depleted squad, without the potential for playing in a conference championship or bowl game. Additionally, they will be the public face of Penn State’s recovery from this scandal, and be asked questions weekly about the scandal and the aftermath.
4) Five years of probation – This sanction burdens the staff of Penn State the most. The compliance staff, who as far as we know has done everything they have been instructed to do, as their program has never been found guilty of recruiting, or other sport specific violations. Previous to the Sandusky scandal, Penn State was the poster child for the NCAA in following the rules and setting an example. Now the compliance staff will have to work extra hard in order to assure that what they’re doing is within the rules, something they had already done.
5) Four-year bowl ban – The bowl ban, similar to the scholarships, will hurt the students most of all. Their shared goal has always been playing in a bowl game to represent their school and now they will not have that chance. Additionally, Penn State will not be eligible to receive shared bowl revenue, part of which went to the funding for other sports and student athletes.
The issue here? None of these groups were the issue. The students worked hard to balance classes and athletic commitments, the compliance staff made sure the students were academically eligible and followed the NCAA handbook, and the other programs acted as cheerleaders for the football program due to their contributions to their own sports. There are five men involved in this scandal, and none of them will feel the wrath of these sanctions specifically, as none of them are any longer directly part of Penn State University (Curley is on leave, but many reports have him resigning in the near future). I believe the true danger of these sanctions is that it makes the scandal look like a football-related issue, where the true crime lies with those five individuals.
The NCAA claims that they are trying to change the culture of Penn State, to show other schools that an athletic department cannot be more powerful then the University and its leadership team. That commitment, I believe, will be proven genuine or not over the following months. The NCAA can work with many schools including Alabama, LSU, Florida, Kentucky, Syracuse and others who all have that type of power at their Universities. Hopefully this type of scandal never occurs again, but it’s not hard to picture the feasibility of other activities being covered up by members of the leadership teams at those institutions.
If I were Mark Emmert, I would have instituted the following sanctions:
1) $60 million fine – money goes to funds for each of the victims of Jerry Sandusky
2) Waiver of transfer rules for current and incoming students
3) Mandatory monthly training sessions focused on ethical decision making for leadership and athletic staff
4) Required community service for student athletes and staff in abuse shelters working with formerly abused individuals
5) Permanent installation of Integrity Monitor on campus, appointed by NCAA
The students did not cause the problem, but they can be part of the solution. The more the staff and students work to create a transparent, accountable system within the Penn State campus, the easier the recovery from this will be. The perception of Penn State is the reality, and those willing to weather the storm have to change it. It starts by the NCAA understanding what this scandal is all about, innocent human beings being hurt, not decisions made by student-athletes.
About the author: Steve Thiel is a current member of the Class of 2013. He graduated with a degree in Sport Management from Baldwin Wallace University in Berea, OH and hopes to work in sponsorship activation and strategy after graduating from the DeVos Program. Follow him on twitter @SThiel21