Were the Penn State sanctions too little?
The case could be made that Penn State got off easy. Significant and meaningful as they are, these unprecedented and warranted NCAA sanctions could have gone much further. The biggest eye opener was the $60 million fine. Except Penn State’s profit — note: not revenues — from football last year was $53 million. (That fact comes courtesy of the Department of Education through the Sports Business Digest.) Penn State has already willingly said it will pay its $60 million fine in five installments, an indication it might hurt — but not all that much. A four-year bowl ban hurts the kids who had nothing to do with Jerry Sandusky’s crimes, but schools have survived bowl bans and will survive them again. The DOE reported that Southern California made $12 million last year while serving a bowl ban. A reduction in scholarships hurts Penn State’s teams the next several years, but it does not prevent the team from taking the field. Not to say the NCAA’s actions weren’t welcome. They were. It’s just that this is merely a small step in changing a national culture that’s grown out of control. Because the system still rages at the same schools wringing their hands at Penn State’s misdeeds.
When a plan was announced to put the NCAA’s football championship game up for bid, Oregon State president Ed Ray had a simple answer when asked where that would send revenues: “Up.” The same Ed Ray was on stage Monday morning announcing the NCAA’s sanctions against Penn State, calling the university’s shame “a conspiracy of silence” in which higher-ups demonstrated a “reckless and callous disregard of children.” He was right on all counts, of course.
But it leads to the question: How can an organization that fosters the football-is-God syndrome it criticized at Penn State find a way to enact cultural and moral change about football? Better put, how can the NCAA keep perspective about football when it is enacting systems that blow perspective into bits? Penn State deserved everything it got. The reputations of those involved were not just trashed by NCAA president Mark Emmert, they were thrown into a gigantic landfill to waste away. Emmert was near brilliant in finally addressing substantive issues that the criminal activity of Jerry Sandusky brought to the forefront. He called Penn State “an athletic culture that went horribly awry” and said football must never again be placed “ahead of nurturing and educating young people.” He said the inaction of the leadership at Penn State went against the NCAA’s core values and principles, as well as what is moral and what is right. “For the next several years, Penn State can focus on rebuilding its athletic culture and not worry about whether or not it is going to a bowl game,” Emmert said. He even added: “Academic values were replaced by hero worship and winning at all costs. The results were perverse and unconscionable.” As Emmert said when addressing how to weigh all the concerns when deciding sanctions, “What predicament did (the children) find themselves in? What circumstances did they have to suffer through?” This was an occasion when applause might have been warranted. Emmert said so many things that were right on it’s impossible to list them all. Clearly this was a man enraged by what he learned, a man determined to address it. But while this action might lead to a culture change at Penn State, there’s a much bigger world of corruption out there. To believe that at this very moment phones aren’t ringing in State College as other colleges try to lure Nittany Lions players elsewhere is to believe in Tinker Bell. Come recruiting season, the same people who lamented the Penn State culture will publicize the decision of a 17- or 18-year-old as if it fed the homeless. Money will be offered to lure a player to a school, and parents and agents for players will show up with their hands out. At Miami, a “booster” treated players like celebrities, setting them up with every kind of vice imaginable. At North Carolina, football players were registered in classes that essentially didn’t exist. At other schools, a player will lose a scholarship because he didn’t play enough. In the high and mighty (moralistic) Big Ten, Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State are all on probation. How’s that Leaders Division looking? Meanwhile, the “leader” of the Big Ten is deeply involved in generating all this additional revenue from the for-bid title game. The system can work. A coach named Bob Ford has been the University at Albany’s coach for 46 years, and he’s done it honorably. He said once he never wanted to leave because he loved the school and the quality of life there. Jim Phelan won 830 games as basketball coach at Mount St. Mary’s in the shadow of Gettysburg. When Dean Smith retired, Phelan moved to the top of the wins list. His comment on that move: “I didn’t do anything.” Yes, coaches can be humble and not demand limos and private planes and guards outside bathrooms. But the culture in big-time college football has spun so wildly to the extreme, changing it might be like trying to stand in front of a steamroller. The NCAA addressed Penn State, doing so quickly, without equivocation and with emphasis. But there’s so much more to address. Starting with: How can a culture of corruption that is so dependent on the money generated by the culture be fixed, and how can an organization that engenders that culture successfully repair it? Those might be the great rhetorical questions of our generation.