The NCAA achieved just the right balance in the punishment it dealt Penn State University after former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was convicted of sexually abusing 10 boys while employed in the university's storied football program.
The sanctions handed out by the college athletic association and the comments made Monday by NCAA President Mark Emmert reflect the horrifying findings about the university's complicity in Sandusky's crimes over many years. Emmert pointed to the damning conclusions of a nearly 300-page report by former FBI Director Louis Freeh, commissioned by the university's new administrators.
Freeh reported that neither revered coach Joe Paterno nor former administrators nor anyone else who knew about the abuse of young boys, sometimes on the school's campus, reported it to police or tried to stop it. In ignoring terrible harm done to the victims, they compounded it.
Paterno was fired soon after the scandal broke and died shortly after. A bronze statue honoring him for 61 years of coaching has been taken down, a vivid and necessary statement that winning isn't everything after all. Emmert rightly blamed not only the individuals who should have put a stop to Sandusky's crimes but an overarching culture of "hero worship" and widely held belief that the Penn State football program was "too big to fail," and too powerful to confront.
Under the NCAA sanctions, Penn State will:
Be ineligible for bowl games for four years,
Have its scholarships reduced from 25 annually to 15,
Pay a $60 million fine the amount the school receives annually from football revenue, and
Forfeit all of its 112 football victories between 1998 and 2011.
The NCAA also placed Penn State on five years' probation and allowed current players to transfer. In not suspending the entire program, the NCAA avoided penalizing those in the community who had no role in the crime.
Some will say that the NCAA should not punish a university athletic program for the criminal activities of its coaches. And to be sure, this action in a criminal case is unprecedented. But the NCAA rightly recognizes that the integrity of college athletics and what should be its role within the academic community are at stake.
Emmert and his board imposed penalties that will be long remembered and will force PSU and its supporters to examine their views on the relative importance of athletics. And, in forcefully doing so, perhaps college athletics will be the better for it.
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