NCAA gets it right on Penn State sanctions

Hail to the NCAA for imposing historically severe sanctions against Penn State for its complicity in Jerry Sandusky’s decades-long trail of sexual abuse.

The punishment makes it clear, not just to Penn State but to every other university in the country, that unbridled devotion to athletics should never be allowed to trump adherence to the tenets of human decency.

“I certainly hope it is a cautionary tale to all of us that we need to keep our eye on our values,” said NCAA President Mark
Emmert. “We have to remember that we can’t let our love of the games get ahead of the core values, and we know that happens often.”

The NCAA banned Penn State from postseason play for four years and revoked 40 scholarships over that time. All of Penn State’s football victories were vacated dating back to 1998, the year school officials first learned of Sandusky’s deviant ways. The university was also fined $60 million, a seemingly big amount until viewed in the context that it represents one year of football program revenues.

The sanctions rang true to University of New Hampshire Athletic Director Marty Scarano, a 1978 Penn State graduate.

“I think Mark Emmert’s comments were point on … This is a systemic issue going on right now in athletics, in this case intercollegiate athletics. The culture has become such that we have our priorities out of kilter,” he said.

Yet, Penn State and Joe Paterno apologists say the NCAA’s punishment is misdirected. This criticism teeters on the flimsy foundation that innocent players, coaches, fans and local businesses will bear the brunt of the sanctions.

It’s an argument that could be used against virtually any NCAA sanction. When schools go astray, it’s the NCAA’s responsibility not simply to punish specific perpetrators, but the athletic programs as a whole. It is the best way to deter future wrongdoing.

Besides, the very essence of football is that you succeed and fail as a team. Penn State and Paterno failed the boys who were systematically and callously brutalized by Sandusky because they cared more about preserving their sham reputations along with some sort of macho myth about the glory of Nittany Lions football.

For those inexcusable transgressions, it is reasonable for the school and the football program to pay a high price.

Still, other critics contend the NCAA did not adhere to the principles of due process, that it should have conducted its own probe.

This was not a criminal investigation. There was more than enough evidence in the report issued earlier this month by Louis Freeh, a former federal judge and one-time director of the FBI. As Emmert said in announcing the sanctions, the NCAA has never in its history conducted an investigation as thorough as the one done by Freeh.

With an ongoing criminal investigation raising the possibility of charges being filed against those who failed to act to stop Sandusky, the story is far from over.

But when it is, it’s a safe bet the NCAA’s actions will have stood the test of time.