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On the NCAA hammering Penn State

I’ve been thinking about the punishment the NCAA meted out to Penn State earlier this week.

The NCAA has hit Penn State with a $60 million sanction, a four-year football postseason ban and a vacation of all wins dating to 1998, the organization said Monday morning. The career record of Joe Paterno will reflect these vacated records, the NCAA said.

Penn State also must reduce 10 initial and 20 total scholarships each year for a four-year period.

The NCAA revealed the sanctions as NCAA president Mark Emmert and Ed Ray, the chairman of the NCAA’s executive committee and Oregon State’s president, spoke at a news conference in Indianapolis at the organization’s headquarters.

“In the Penn State case, the results were perverse and unconscionable. No price the NCAA can levy will repair the damage inflicted by Jerry Sandusky on his victims,” Emmert said, referring to the former Penn State defensive coordinator convicted of 45 counts of child sex abuse last month.

The NCAA said the $60 million was equivalent to the average annual revenue of the football program. The NCAA ordered Penn State to pay the penalty funds into an endowment for “external programs preventing child sexual abuse or assisting victims and may not be used to fund such programs at the university.”

With the wins from 1998-2011 vacated, Paterno moves from 409 wins to 298, dropping him from first to 12th on the winningest NCAA football coach list. Penn State also will have six bowl wins and two conference championships erased.

The Penn State athletic program also will be put on a five-year probation and must work with an athletic-integrity monitor of NCAA’s choosing. Any current or incoming football players are free to immediately transfer and compete at another school.

The action was unusual in that there were no allegations of misconduct related to NCAA rules – recruiting violations, that sort of thing – so one could argue that they didn’t really have jurisdiction or justification for intervening. I’m pretty sure no one outside Happy Valley really believed that, however. The usual pushback on NCAA sanctions is that the punishment is being visited on current players, coaches, and students for the actions of past coaches. Here, though, the bad acts went well beyond the coaching staff all the way up to the top of the Penn State administration, and even with them having been swept out and arrested, it’s hard to argue that the school doesn’t deserve any sanction for the extraordinary long-term coverup and abetment of Sandusky’s crimes. My gut reaction is that this time it’s very much all right for the school and its supporters to suffer for awhile, if only to serve as a stark example to other schools that may someday face their own hideous scandal that they might like to keep from coming to light. The school’s culture and self-image were part of the problem, and as such it’s right to make that part of the sentence.

The one thing I don’t like is the erasure of 112 wins from Paterno’s and the school’s record. The NCAA does this routinely for various violations, and I’ve never liked it. I don’t believe in changing history after the fact, which is what this amounts to. The games were played, the players accumulated whatever statistics they accumulated, and there were winners and losers. We shouldn’t claim they didn’t afterward because we disapprove of the actions of one or more of the participants, however heartily and justifiably we feel that disapproval. The numbers are what they are, and we can judge the people behind them separately. I can understand the NCAA not wanting Paterno atop the list of coaching victories, but I don’t agree with their remedy. Leave the numbers alone.

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