#whatshouldwecallstudentaffairs: “Our colleagues at Penn State”

One thing is to be agreed with: Dr. Mark Emmert’s assertion that the sanctions handed down to Penn State University are designed to punish the culture of an institution that allowed for a cover-up of heinous crimes, and not to punish the crime itself. When looking at the end result through such a lens, the severe charges appear more reasonable. That being said, I have some philosophical differences with the NCAA on their decisions. For those who care to read why, I’m going to tell you!
First, there is the question of jurisdiction. An objection that I raised in the days surrounding the Freeh report centered around the question of if punishment for this case fell within the purview of the NCAA. Previous sanctions handed down, in some cases crippling ones such as those handed down to SMU or USC, were the result of a violation of NCAA policy. That said, the board in this case is acting on a violation of law. As it stands right now, no NCAA rules were broken. The decision to allow for NCAA investigation into the school’s policies could turn up findings of actual violations; in fact, based on accounts from some in student affairs there, I wouldn’t be remotely surprised if they did. In the event that violations are found in that investigation, the sanctions would seem more justified. Am I saying that punishment is not deserved? No. I am, however, saying that the reasoning behind punishment isn’t as clear to me.
I also wonder about the question of relevancy. Several of these individual sanctions make sense to me in the goal they’re trying to achieve. The vacation of wins, while seemingly bewildering to some, makes sense to me. The egregious negligence of Penn State in this matter was justified by a desire to win, no matter the cost. In vacating those wins, there is a symbolic message sent that such behavior is intolerable. Similarly, the ban from postseason play allows for playing to be placed within the proper context- a diversion and complement to academics, but not an at-all-costs end goal. However, implementation of academic integrity measures (who said that was the problem?) or compliance officers (there aren’t compliance officers already? Even my Division III institution had those) is irrelevant to the problem at hand. If the NCAA does wish to exercise influence in a situation such as this, it should levy punishments that fit the crime. They should fit the crime not in severity, but to match the problem at hand.
And finally, I am concerned about the nature of due process. I spoke earlier about the difference between violation of policy and violation of law. If the former was the case, I would feel far less itchy about the desire of the NCAA to intervene in such a grave case of misconduct. But the fact of the matter is, to date the NCAA has not investigated on its own. The Sandusky family has responded to the sanctions with shock over their severity, but also the speed with which the board acted. While I don’t like the source of this concern, I agree with it. The NCAA has not done its own investigation. They have opened the door for such an option to be exercised, and I’d be interested to see what they find when they actively look. What punishment do they have left to levy if they find anything else? What is worse than life without parole? Would it take that to merit the death penalty?
In attempting to give some semblance of resolution by throwing down a verdict with teeth, I fear the NCAA has only raised more questions. As the case continues to unfold, I can only keep the innocent in my thoughts- those who were hurt by the true cause of this scandal. Yes, many in State College will be devastated at their forced irrelevance in the grand scheme of football for years to come, but their “suffering” pales starkly to those who will never be able to forget what happened to them when an institution let football get bigger than common sense and decency.

And finally, for my campus, a campus that has something of a silver lining in this case, it is distasteful to treat it as such. If Bobby Bowden is not celebrating this “victory”, given the circumstances under which it was achieved, you shouldn’t either.

4 thoughts on “Processing Penn State Penalties

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Amma. I have been wondering about how the NCAA holds jurisdiction here, too. It seems that there is a realm where the law can't intervene (vacating wins, etc. is not within the US criminal system – I don't think?) and where a need exists to address a severe concern. My gut says that this kind of action wouldn't have happened from within the institution (though I clearly don't know that for sure). My sense is the the NCAA is acting from a place of guidance of athletics at a nation-wide level and though policies don't exist for the things that happened, the NCAA believes it necessary to address it. There's so much here that no one knows (who can possibly have all of the information?). Thank you for bringing some additional perspectives up.

  2. These are all good points. I believe it all revolves around jurisdiction. If a student violates academic policies on campus, the legal system has no jurisdiction over the sentencing. Why would the NCAA have the right to punish an institution for a violation of criminal law. I have been mulling this over since the NCAA decision (sentencing?) was announced and I am still perplexed by the general acceptance of this by other institutions. Because this is tied to a terrible crime it seems like just about any punishment can be handed out and no one is likely to say anything. I am also disturbed by the NCAA's lack of investigation or having this connect to a policy violation. Like you, I agree with the stripping of titles as it impacts the sports programs and sends a message that victory at all costs is not acceptable, but that falls into the pervue of the NCAA. Thank you for writing this, it has filled in soem gaps that I had not investigated.

  3. Great thoughts, but I think the NCAA did a good job with most of this. To your point about jurisdiction – the NCAA has the authority and the responsibility to govern the athletic programs. There has been a lot of talk about the fact that no "on-the-field" advantages were gained from this entire situation, so why punish the program in which everyone currently affiliated had nothing to do with the abuse and/or coverup. Although this is true, they still MUST punish their program for how they conducted themselves for so long. My analogy for this is for all the parents out there. Let's say your kid gets caught shoplifting. he/she gets arrested, has to pay restitution, may have to go to court, and face other legal measures. He/she looks at you in tears, clearly learning the lesson at hand. Although your child has been punished by the legal aspects, you're still going to ground them. They still need to be shown this is not acceptable behavior given the values of your family. NCAA is the "parent" governing their "kids," so they need to send a strong message of the values that the family must share.For me, the academic pieces are about the culture needing to change. When it came out that the coverup went as high as the President, it showed that this was not just a football issue – it extended to the core of the institution. So I think this was that "on paper" way of saying that the focus of the institution needs to change. Penn State became a football first place, and they need to ensure that academics is the focus. I believe they might be out of bounds to be the authority to enforce that, but as the regulating body of student athletic programs, one could argue that they do have a right to ensure that academia is at the forefront of the institution.To the due process point – the Freeh Report was an independent investigation by FBI agents and federal prosecutors. The NCAA read the report before determining these sanctions. To me, an NCAA investigation is unnecessary.It is an unprecedented situation, so sometimes common conventionality gets thrown a little out the window. Although we wonder about their cause and role in this, but I applaud them for trying to do everything they can to promote a new culture. You do what's best with the information at hand. Who knows what the "best" is in this situation, but I think everything is fair.

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