When $60 Million Isn’t Enough July 24th, 2012
I’m treading into touchy territory this week. For my disclaimer on this little foray, please see yesterday’s short post.
I don’t suppose there are many occasions in life when $60 million doesn’t seem like enough. But upon reading the list of NCAA sanctions imposed on Penn State in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky’s conviction and the findings of the Freeh Report, that’s exactly how I felt.
Unfortunately, though, no amount of money can right these wrongs. Nothing can unrape those boys. So absent the ability to change the past, incredible focus is being paid to what punishments will be handed down to Penn State in the future. People went sort of berserk yesterday at what most media outlets, FB posters, and Tweeters seemed to think was quite a stiff penalty. But I just don’t see it.
Amidst all the discussion of the imposed sanctions the vacating of losses during the Sandusky era seemed to draw the most attention. Per the NCAA’s official tally, Joe Paterno is no longer the winningest coach in the history of college football. And I can’t help but respond with the question, ”So what?” In a conversation on this very topic a friend of mine said something along the lines of, “You have to admit, being stripped of that title… it’s pretty symbolic.” And I said, “You’re absolutely right. It’s symbolic. It doesn’t actually mean anything.” Paterno isn’t even still alive to suffer whatever humiliation might have come from having his record stripped away. So why bother? Why not focus the sanctions on something that will make a difference moving forward?
With that in mind, I also bristled at the four-year bowl game ban and scholarship reductions. Bill O’Brien and whichever Nittany Lions don’t head for the hills* will now pay the price for the hideous acts of Sandusky and the inexcusable complicity of Paterno and others. Ineligibility for bowl games doesn’t even come close to being as damaging as what Sandusky’s victims endured. Not only is it a trivial punishment when compared with the crime, but it is inflicted on people who weren’t even implicated.
As for the fine, $60 million is one year’s worth of football program revenue for Penn State.** One year. That’s all. It seems like a drop in the bucket, doesn’t it? I am thankful that the NCAA mandated that the $60 million must be spent on child sex abuse and awareness programs. But given that, why stop at $60 million? Why not $100 million? Why not $300 million? Why not mandate that all profits from the football program must be funneled into advocacy programs for sex abuse victims for the next 20 years?
As I socialized my objections to a few people yesterday, someone actually confronted me with a reasonable answer. That answer was that it’s not the NCAA’s job to inflict the punitive measures for the entire scandal. That is the job of our legal system and under the jurisdiction of our judicial branch Penn State University will like have millions more in civil damages to pay out to the victims. The NCAA’s job, on the other hand, is to correct a culture where football was so revered that many people opted to knowingly allow multiple boys to be raped over a period of 10+ years rather than to risk so much as a blemish on the spotless sheen of the Penn State football program. One way to do that is to knock the program down off its pedestal and force the State College devotees to square themselves to a losing team for the next several years.
I can respect that the NCAA isn’t on the hook for administering the full legal ramifications of this crime. But in light of the severity and duration of Sandusky’s actions; and in light of the casualness with which most Penn State supporters treated the allegationsbefore they were proven in court (fiscal 2011-2012 was PSU’s second highest fund raising year ever), I feel confident that it’s going to take a lot more than a four-year bowl game ban to convince many members of the Penn State community that it was the very thing that their love and idolatry built up into legend that laid the groundwork for this sex abuse scandal to become so widely known and yet still unreported.
Stripping a dead man of wins? So what. It’s a hollow gesture at best.
Curtailing scholarships and access to bowl games for four years? Sandusky raped and abused boys for at least 14 years.
A five year probationary period? Given the number of people in the Penn State administration who knew about it the probationary period should last for as long as any one of them is still employed by the university.
A $60 million fine? A drop in the bucket.
People are saying that this collection of penalties somehow adds up to a fate worse than the death penalty for the Penn State football program, but I don’t follow that logic. Football with limitations is still football. And knocking the program down a peg or two isn’t the same as knocking it out altogether. Let me be clear. Winning football games will never be more important than protecting the health and safety of children. And I’m not sure that the Penn State community fully understands that yet. That isn’t to say I think everyone at PSU is as deluded as those who were involved in the scandal. But if even one person thinks that this punishment outweighs the crime, then that’s proof enough for me that the lesson hasn’t yet been learned.
*Permission to transfer for all entering or returning football players was one of the sanctions.
**Well, it was one year’s worth. I wonder if the program’s revenues will decline in the face of what is almost certain to be a losing team for several years into the future.