The NCAA Entrenches Itself as Part of the Problem
The NCAA sanctions announced last week have assuaged nationwide anger over the horrendous sex crimes in and around the football program at Penn State. In sports terms, the penalties pack a wallop designed to curb the university’s athletics prowess for years ahead. They include a record $60-million fine and the elimination of 20 total scholarships each year over the next four years. While some critics have regretted that the NCAA did not revive its “death penalty”—disbanding the Penn State football team for an entire season or more—others consider those punishments equally severe.
By all accounts, NCAA President Mark Emmert acted boldly. Discarding his arcane rulebook, he rose above the association’s chronic preoccupation with petty payola, like discounted tattoos for college athletes. Having deferred to Pennsylvania’s continuing prosecutorial process, with its jurisdiction set properly in law, Emmert reasserted the NCAA’s tradition-based power over big-time college sports.
This sudden intervention is politically shrewd for the NCAA, at least in the short term. Coming after a sensational investigative report from a former FBI director, Louis J. Freeh, it satisfies urgent public demand to smack Penn State for enabling monstrous serial crimes for more than a decade. The impact, visible in news photos of gasping television viewers, has played to sports fans’ hunger for victorious clout.
Yet the temporary satisfaction is worse than misleading. Emmert’s penalties target collateral or innocent people while sparing NCAA policies that facilitate exploitation of every kind. The NCAA’s conscious design is skewed toward tyranny. It shuns the checks and balances of healthy governance. Beneath cheers and boos over Penn State, the NCAA’s vengeful stance only obscures the clear resolve needed to address the conflict between sports and academics at major universities.
Emmert took advantage of the Freeh report to straddle a crucial divide. Was the Penn State cover-up caused by extreme but isolated human failure—a freakish aberration, unlikely to be repeated—or by the general culture of commercialized NCAA sports? Apart from its comprehensive detail, Freeh’s report begs notice for its careful scope, which confines blame to the five officials already fired or indicted: the former president, Graham B. Spanier; a vice president, Gary C. Schultz; the athletic director, Timothy M. Curley; the late football coach, Joe Paterno; and the convicted child molester, Jerry Sandusky.