Upon Further Review: Did the NCAA go too far with the Penn State sanctions?

Earlier this week, the NCAA made it known what their penalties to Penn State’s football program would be, and they were excessive. The announcement got three of our staff writers thinking: did the NCAA go too far with their sanctions, or is everything justified considering the situation?

Greg Kaplan: At times, it feels like an no-win proposition to take any side that sounds like you’re in defense of the Penn State football program. And yet, after taking a long look at all the sanctions being stacked against the school’s football team, its impossible to sit here and say that all of it, if any, are justifiable.

News broke Sunday that Penn State would be able to avoid the “Death Penalty” from the NCAA. This was followed up by the announcement Monday levied against the football program that fined the school $60 million (or one year’s profits for the team), banned from post-season play for four years, vacated all wins from 1998-onward and as many as 20 scholarships each year during the bowl ban.

To me, that sounds like a death penalty.

Needless to say, I have some gigantic problems with all of these penalties. The first, and most glaring, were any of the problems, issues and moral corruption by the superiors at Penn State have anything to do with the product on the football field? Yes, Joe Paterno, Jerry Sandusky and Graham Spanier had ties to the football program, but their inappropriate and offensive life decisions had nothing to do with LaVar Arrington, Courtney Brown, Brian Urlacher, Curtis Enis, Larry Johnson or any of the other fantastic football players that walked through State College, PA during this era.

You want to vacate the wins during this era? Fine. That’s purely a superficial move that only the NCAA cares about. The rest of us understand Joe Paterno won more football games than any other coach in Division-1 history, regardless of what imaginary magic wand can do to take them away.

You want to fine the school for what they did? Sure, I can live with that, too. That makes sense to me.

But, banning the school from participating in bowl games and reducing scholarships doesn’t, at all, serve any purpose to teams that aren’t run by anyone the NCAA is trying to punish. Instead, they’re punishing the current band of players that originally went to this school because of the storied history and the mystique of being apart of something special. Everyone apart of the Sandusky scandal is far removed from everything Penn State. It feels like the NCAA is trying to re-write history, make it seem like nothing ever happened when something egregious did.

If the NCAA didn’t want to issue a “death penalty”, then, well, why did they issue a death penalty?

Steve Sabato: I’ll tell you why, Kaplan. Public pressure can make people overreact to situations. People wanted blood, and Emmert saw an opportunity to be a “man of the people” in this situation. It’s a political move. If the NCAA could have been assured that people would be satisfied with the fact that the people responsible for this will likely be sentenced to prison time, they probably wouldn’t have dropped the guillotine on Penn State the way they did.

I understand the argument that’s made in defense of these penalties, one that says had these transgressions been reported at the outset, it would have damaged Penn State’s recruiting, and by hiding it they gave themselves a competitive advantage. I figured the NCAA would hand down some sort of sanction. What bothered me about it was something you touched on in your analysis–that it feels superficial. Does anybody actually believe Mark Emmert when he preaches placing athletics in their proper context within academic institutions? Unless you eat paste, you probably don’t.

The unfortunate reality of the NCAA is that it probably shouldn’t exist. It is completely paradoxical as an entity. Amateur athletes driving billion dollar television contracts, memorabilia sales, ticket sales, so on, and so forth. Attach money to anything and it’s going to make people crazy, whether they admit it or not. There’s a reason these crimes went generally unreported. People wanted to protect State College’s cash cow. Penn State just needs to swallow college football’s biggest pill, and live up to the billing to which they had claimed to be living up throughout the Paterno era. In a twisted sort of way, it’s a fitting punishment for the team, to now be forced to walk the walk after years of talking largely empty talk.

Vinny Ginardi: First of all, the NCAA was put into an undeniably difficult position here. The acts that were committed and covered up at Penn State were unspeakable, unfathomable, shocking, and disturbing. Because of that, it’s understandable that the NCAA, as the overseeing entity, needed to send a message that behavior such as this will not be tolerated. A punishment too light would send the wrong kind of message. That’s why I was not surprised to see the severity of the punishments that came down on Penn State University.

But that doesn’t mean that I agree with them. (Note: Just because I don’t agree with some of the punishments handed down by the NCAA, does NOT mean that I or my co-writers in any way condone what happened).

I’m okay with the fine that came down on Penn State. Hey, $60 million is a lot of money no matter who you are talking to, but this is roughly how much Penn State football makes each season. As Steve touched on, by not reporting the crimes, Penn State may have gained a slight advantage in that they weren’t viewed negatively for an extended period of time when they might have been had the crimes been brought to attention.  That combined with the my opinion that Penn State should be penalized in for what happened, a monetary fine seems more than understandable.

I also don’t really care Joe Paterno’s wins were taken away from him. He played his part in this scandal, and even though he has passed away, punishing him for his actions (or non-actions in this case) feels right.  Along the same lines though, I don’t feel that the wins should have been stripped from the teams during that era. Take the wins away from Paterno, that makes sense, but don’t take it away from the players who were not involved in this situation and worked hard each and every week. I understand that NCAA is saying here that Penn State may not have had these players had the proper procedures been taken, but to me, that is assuming a lot.

Finally, and this is one seems simple, there is no reason to punish the future players and personnel of the Penn State football department by placing a four-year bowl ban and limiting the number of scholarships that can be offered. Those involved in the scandal are no longer there, so at this point you are punishing an entire program because of the actions of a few individuals. It doesn’t feel right. At least the NCAA is allowing current players to transfer without penalty instead of being stuck in a football program with a very dim future (obviously not a good thing for Penn State).

I’m all for justice, especially in a situation such as this one. But it needs to be brought upon the right people.