Monday, July 23, 2012

NCAA's Penn State Sanctions are Disproportionate, Unfair and Hypocritical

"The sanctions announced by the NCAA today defame the legacy and contributions of a great coach and educator without any input from our family or those who knew him best. That the President, the Athletic Director and the Board of Trustees accepted this unprecedented action by the NCAA without requiring a full due process hearing before the Committee on Infractions is an abdication of their responsibilities and a breach of their fiduciary duties to the University and the 500,000 alumni."--Paterno family statement

Jerry Sandusky's sex abuse crimes are abhorrent and he deserves the severest possible penalty under the law--but even he deserved and received due process and his day in court. Sandusky received justice but his case has now shifted into a witch hunt that appears to be designed to consume and destroy the reputation and legacy of Joe Paterno. Paterno is an easy target because he is deceased and thus not able to defend himself and his actions/alleged actions. Although a Pennsylvania grand jury declined to charge Paterno and there is no direct evidence that Paterno knowingly covered up Sandusky's crimes, Paterno's name is being smeared based on the words "reasonable to conclude": the Freeh Report interviewed hundreds of people and reviewed over three million documents but failed to find a single proverbial "smoking gun" implicating Paterno. Instead, the Freeh Report engaged in some form of literary interpretation and determined that it would be, in Freeh's repeatedly stated words, "reasonable to conclude" that Paterno actively sought to cover up Sandusky's crimes--even dating back to a time when law enforcement authorities had investigated Sandusky and been unable to prove that Sandusky had in fact committed any crimes.

The accusations against Paterno simply do not make much sense; why would Paterno report Mike McQueary's allegations about Sandusky to Tim Curley and Gary Schultz if Paterno's primary motivation was to cover things up at all costs? Paterno has a well documented history of suspending players for even minor infractions and for emphasizing academics/integrity over wins. Paterno did not cover up or whitewash small, technical NCAA violations so why would he actively cover up heinous crimes? Paterno said that in retrospect he wishes that he had done more; it is reasonable to suggest that Paterno should have taken a more active role to ensure that his superiors properly handled the Sandusky matter but it is more than a bit of a reach to assert that Paterno deliberately covered up child sex abuse just so that he could win more football games.

Would you want the sum total worth of your life to be defined by what other people think is "reasonable to conclude" based on reading emails that you did not write and that were composed by people who currently are facing charges of perjury (former Penn State administrators Gary Schultz and Tim Curley)? There certainly appears to be plenty of direct evidence to implicate those two individuals; at the very least, decisions permanently affecting Paterno's legacy and status should wait until the Curley and Schultz trials hopefully shed more light on what exactly Paterno did and did not do.

The NCAA sanctions against Penn State are unprecedented. The NCAA fined Penn State $60 million, with those funds to be dedicated to an endowment to help child abuse victims. That is certainly a worthy endeavor, although it is not clear how it was decided what amount the fine should be or who specifically will bear that cost; if money is being taken away from the education of innocent Penn State students (as opposed to be taken away from people who actually committed crimes) then that is not right no matter how noble the cause is.

The NCAA also banned the Penn State football program from postseason play for four years, enforced scholarship reductions lasting for four years and placed the athletic department on probation for five years. Perhaps the most stunning decision is that the NCAA vacated 112 Penn State wins from 1998-2011, 111 of which had been credited to Paterno's personal record. The cumulative effect of these NCAA punishments hurts Paterno, his former players and current/future Penn State players but it does nothing to punish the men responsible for the actual crimes: Sandusky (whose fate correctly lies in the hands of the justice system), Curley and Schultz. Also left unscathed is former Penn State President Graham Spanier, who was heavily criticized in the Freeh Report but has not been charged with a crime and has vehemently denied that he knew about and covered up Sandusky's crimes.

The NCAA claims that it is acting so harshly against Penn State to make a statement proving that collegiate sports should never be elevated over academics and should not become "too big to fail" in the words of NCAA President Mark Emmert. Are we really supposed to believe that Penn State and Penn State alone stood for the worst of what college sports represents? Jerry Sandusky was a serial child sexual predator who manipulated and deceived his family, the people at the Second Mile charity and others around him but his crimes do not represent the totality of what Penn State stood for during Paterno's era; Paterno guided many players who became productive members of society and his teams were consistently successful on the field without committing violations off of the field. Instead of self-righteously singling out Penn State the NCAA should take down the entire bloated system that has essentially transformed college sports into minor leagues for football and basketball in which all of the profits go to the NCAA, the athletic departments and the coaches while the players are not paid anything other than scholarships. Why should college football and basketball coaches be the highest paid state employees in any state? Paterno ran his program with more integrity than just about anyone else--based on the documented record, not based on what someone decides it is "reasonable to conclude"--but if the NCAA feels that big time college sports are somehow inherently corrupt (which is certainly "reasonable to conclude" at this point) then Emmert and his cohorts should refund all of the television and sponsorship money that they receive and let some other organization take over minor league football and minor league basketball in this country while the NCAA sets up a new structure in which college sports consists entirely of intramural games that are not sources of billions of dollars in revenue.

The NCAA is a self-appointed judge, jury and executioner--but who judges the NCAA? The NCAA has a huge book filled with Byzantine rules that it enforces or fails to enforce solely at its own discretion, with no outside oversight. Big name programs like Miami (the infamous "U"), Oklahoma, Nebraska and others had endemic problems/crimes/violations yet their wins and championships have not been vacated; to cite just one example, Nebraska's sainted Coach Tom Osborne kept Lawrence Phillips on the team despite the fact that Phillips assaulted his girlfriend. Phillips ultimately played a major role when Nebraska won the 1995 national championship. Phillips has since faced numerous criminal charges and is currently serving a term of at least 26 years in prison for committing various assaults. Did Osborne, Nebraska and the NCAA ultimately do right by Phillips--coddling him instead of insisting that he be punished for his crimes and possibly get help for his anger issues--and his victims? Perhaps you say that Phillips' numerous assault cases are not as bad as Sandusky's child abuse crimes; well, what about murder? Is murder worse? In 2003, Baylor basketball player Carlton Dotson murdered his teammate Patrick Dennehy; the ensuing criminal and NCAA investigations turned up a host of crimes and NCAA violations committed by Coach Dave Bliss and other members of the coaching staff/athletic department. NCAA history is full of murder, mayhem, point shaving, academic fraud and grown men lining their pockets while taking advantage of the athletic talents of the young men in their charge, young men who often do not receive much academic, moral or social instruction during their college days.

The NCAA's swift and unprecedented action against Penn State and against Paterno's coaching record is not about justice or morality. This is really about two things: (1) public relations and (2) taking preemptive action to prevent lawsuits against the NCAA. The NCAA is a greedy and inherently corrupt organization that is more concerned about preserving its revenue streams than anything else.

Not only is the NCAA acting with breathtaking hypocrisy, it is doubtful that the NCAA's actions are legal. ESPN's Jay Bilas, a former Duke basketball player who is also a practicing attorney, says that the NCAA's actions set a precedent that the NCAA is "willing to violate its own rules and act without going through the normal course." Florida-based attorney Michael Buckner goes even further, telling ESPN's Mike Fish that what the NCAA did is "perhaps unconstitutional." Fish reports that Iowa attorney Jerry Crawford says that the NCAA made a "rush to judgment.'' Crawford adds, "I don't know any reason for the NCAA to feel they needed to rush in other than they were getting bullied in the court of public opinion, which they obviously didn't like. What I believe I know is Joe Paterno ran an NCAA sanction[ed] football program that didn't just play within the rules, but played well within the rules. Recruited good people. Got them educations. I thought it was a program the country needed to emulate, not ostracize.''

In Christopher Nolan's recently concluded Batman film trilogy, Batman takes the fall for Harvey Dent (the maniacal "Two Face") so that Dent can be viewed by Gotham's citizens as a hero and as a symbol for justice--but propagating that lie turned out to be very costly for all involved. Jerry Sandusky must be punished for his crimes and anyone who knowingly covered up his crimes should also be punished--but making Joe Paterno and the entire Penn State football program take the fall to supposedly prove the integrity of the NCAA is as bold a lie as saying that Batman is a criminal while Harvey Dent is a hero. Such lies always have dreadful consequences.

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