Sunday July 29, 2012

One of the ugly concepts to emerge from the Vietnam War was that of destroying the village in order to save. A modern day equivalent is the NCAA’s squashing of Penn State University in reaction to the Jerry Sandusky scandal, which threatens the well-being of the university because of the acknowledged inexcusable actions and inactions of a few.

The Freeh report, requested by the university’s Board of Directors, was damning in its detailing of how the university hierarchy, the athletic department and head football coach Joe Paterno ignored and then covered up the predatory behavior of serial child abuser Sandusky, an assistant football coach. The executives responsible have been dismissed and faced criminal charges, Mr. Paterno died not long after he was removed as coach, and Mr. Sandusky will assuredly spend the rest of his life in jail. Mr. Paterno’s statue has been hidden away and all colleges should realize the dangers of making a demi-god of extremely human coaches.

Punishment from the NCAA was coming and deservedly so, but the organization was guilty of piling on a week ago. A much-criticized body that is ordinarily slow to act acted in haste, in advance of criminal proceedings and the inevitable civil lawsuits. The NCAA’s quick response and draconian punishments of the school were as much if not more about its image than the failures of Penn State.

The $60 million fine appears to be a figure arrived at arbitrarily by the NCAA. The four-year ban from postseason play along with other penalties will cost the school revenue needed to pay this fine. Will some of that money come out of the budgets for academic programs and teachers? It would appear to be inevitable, which makes the NCAA party to lowering the academic standards of Penn State, which is hardly its mission.

Limits established on recruiting and the number of scholarship players on the football team’s roster may all but wreck the football program, though no one associated with the Sandusky scandal is connected with the football program. Players were given the opportunity to transfer elsewhere but they presumably went to Penn State for a reason, perhaps including academics, and have no interest in moving on to another school.

The Freeh report rightly blasted Penn State for the "culture of reverence" for the football program that enabled its leaders to abide the presence of Mr. Sandusky. In attempting to protect the football program from scandal, Penn State’s leaders, including the far too powerful Mr. Paterno, brought the worst scandal in history down upon not just the program but the university. Penn State was going to pay dearly for allowing this culture to develop regardless of what the NCAA did or didn’t do. To borrow again from the Vietnam lexicon, the NCAA caused far too much collateral damage in claiming its pound of flesh.