After everyone has piled on the punishment for Penn State, from the public to the lawyers, the NCAA chose today to deliver its justice to the embattled school.
The association levied a $60 million fine on the institution, in addition to vacating all of Joe Paterno’s wins since 1998, placing a four-year postseason ban on the program, and stripping away dozens of scholarships.
NCAA president Mark Emmert made a big show of the proceedings, and while it was clear that something had to be done as a form of retribution for the Sandusky scandal, the NCAA predictably screwed this all up.
Many people thought that Penn State deserved the death penalty, but Emmert and his predecessors pledged that it wasn’t an option after the devastation that followed it at SMU. Instead, he decided to make as large a statement as possible, while still trying to pretend that the NCAA was being the “good guy” here.
Sure, he wasn’t going to destroy the whole program, but Emmert was determined to send some sort of message to other big football schools and chastise the offending Nittany Lions in the process.
However, what he surely meant as a display of the NCAA’s power instead came across as a futile exercise in headline grabbing. As I discussed just last week, the possibility for a Sandusky-style scandal and cover-up is present at any major football program; levying some fines on the most prominent example of compromised ideals isn’t going to deter anyone.
Instead, the NCAA comes off looking vindictive and ineffectual. The real people that needed to be punished were the administrators directly involved with covering up Sandusky’s misdeeds: Spanier, Curley, Schultz, and the late Paterno. For the NCAA to attempt to change the culture of big-time college football that it helped create seems foolish. The justice system can take care of the people who committed the crimes here, and all the NCAA has done is hurt the people still involved with the program.
Because when you break it all down, that’s really who is being punished here; new head coach Bill O’Brien and any current or future Penn State football players. The NCAA was kind enough to allow players to transfer without penalty (and the fact that many are hailing them for ignoring their own outdated and manipulative policy contains a sick kind of humor in itself) but these sanctions are only going to affect the people that have decided to stick with Penn State.
Many of these coaches and athletes weren’t around when many of the events of this scandal took place, yet they’ll be the ones to feel the NCAA’s wrath. It’s one thing to vacate Paterno’s wins- that’s simply another black mark on a legacy that’s already been demolished- but the loss of scholarships is just ridiculous. What did the next generation of Nittany Lions recruits do that deserves punishment? What about the lowly assistant coaches that might’ve recruited them?
What this all boils down to is the NCAA looking for an opportunity to flex its muscles. The association has been the supreme power in college sports for more than a hundred years, but as conference re-alignment and the destruction of the BCS puts its delicate position in doubt, members of the organization are starting to see a world where its not needed anymore.
For the first time in decades, the myth of amateurism is starting to crumble, and as many of the major football schools negotiate their own TV deals and change conferences at will, the NCAA needs to remind people who they are.
And who are they? Arbiters of nonsensical rules and comically ineffective judges that hand down irrelevant punishments.
Penn State football is as good as dead after these sanctions. Here’s hoping that the NCAA follows it into the grave sooner rather than later.