23 July 2012

(Some Of) The Problems With the NCAA Sanctions Against Penn State

The recent announcement of NCAA sanctions against Penn State regarding the sex abuse scandal are very disturbing.  Here's a few of the reasons why-

1) Too soon- The NCAA is famous for taking too long to make final rulings on athletic scandals.  The complaints are not unjustified...Reggie Bush was almost to NFL retirement before SoCal got the word on what the sanctions would be with reference to the improper benefits he received.  Part of the reason they took so long on these various decisions is due to the nature of the beast: asking people with full-time 'real' jobs to meet and make important decisions affecting hundreds of other people is simply not a time-efficient process.  But part of the reason was also a good one-they were thorough. They gathered all the facts that could be gathered from all the pertinent people and made a decision based on the data, with enough time passing that emotions played no role in most cases (the SMU death-penalty decision could be argued otherwise, but that's another blog post).

2) Punishing the wrong people- A decision that involves a sixty million dollar fine will have serious financial repercussions on a lot of good folks who had nothing to do with the wrongs that occurred, and could have done nothing to prevent or stop them.  Keeping PSU out of conference championships and bowl games will cost hard-working folks their jobs. In short, what happened was, they caught the serial killer and summarily executed his family and friends as punishment.

3) Not punishing the right people- Perhaps one of the biggest problems, one that hasn't gotten much mention, is that a hurry-up-and-make-them-pay attitude not only hurts quite a number of folks who don't deserve to be punished, it may very well end up letting the very, very guilty walk away without so much as a sneer.  Allowing the hurried and not-so-impartial Freeh investigation to stand in place of a long-term, outsider-with-no-connections investigation will likely mean that some of the underlings in the system who did know about the crimes and could have stopped them but chose not to do anything, walk away without anyone ever knowing their names or their culpability.  University presidents make important decisions, and should be held accountable for what happens when they cover up a crime.  But those people in the locker rooms who allowed the crimes to continue should not get away without justice, having had their bosses stand in their place at the whipping post.

4) Frightening precedence- The NCAA has acted upon and punished a violation of criminal law.  I understand the argument about how they aren't punishing the perpetrator (who's name I refuse to put in print) but punishing a 'lack of institutional control' instead.  I don't buy it.  If that were the case, the same due process that we've seen in the past would take place, and the punishment would fit the 'crime'. (Funny how flippantly we use that word when it really doesn't apply.) That didn't happen here because retribution doesn't feel good after everybody has gotten past the emotions of an injustice.  It only feels good when there's still blood in the (shower) water.  What the NCAA did was eye-for-an-eye legalism at its finest.  I don't think the NCAA should be operating that way.  Those people are charged with stopping cheating in collegiate athletics (which they absolutely have not done, but again, that's another blog post).  Giving them the precedent to deal with criminal activity, even when restricted to a university setting, should scare the scat out of all of us.

There is a lot more that could be said, but I'll save some of it for later.  Right now, we have two sets of victims to deal with- the real victims of the sexual perversion of the perpetrator of the child rape and abuse, and now the fabricated (but real) set of victims (albeit less severe consequences) of those who are drawing blood from innocent people in the effort to cover their rear ends, stick it to 'the man', or in some way try to feel better about themselves in the aftermath of a tragedy.  And in the process, the first set of victims (the serious ones) may get overshadowed by all the brouhaha.  That would be a third tragedy, but I fear it is unavoidable at this point unless cooler heads prevail.

Let's try and focus on punishing the guilty and supporting the victims rather than hurt a bunch of folks who didn't do anything wrong in the effort to feel better about our (in)actions in light of the scandal.

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