Tony | The question of ethics for PSU, NCAA
July 25, 2012, 9:38 pm·
Happy Valley may never be happy again. So is everybody else happy now?
A four-year bowl ban, a $60 million fine, a dramatic hit to football scholarships, and 14 years of vacated wins leave Penn State in ruin, but PSU’s current and prospective student athletes aren’t the only victims here.
Hotels, restaurants, stadium workers, and central Pennsylvanian households all economically dependent on the Nittany Lion brand have also been banished indefinitely into exile. It’s the latest and most egregious abuse of power by the NCAA, a rules-based organization that consistently breaks its own rules.
And the NCAA is a police state now.
NCAA president Mark Emmert single-handedly crushed Penn State in record time. (Sources confirm the punishment handed down was crafted by him alone).
It’s been only eight months since the grand jury presentment that kicked off this scandal. It’s been two weeks since the release of former FBI director Louis Freeh’s report that concluded former football coach Joe Paterno, former Penn State president Graham Spanier, former athletic director Tim Curley and former vice president Gary Schultz conspired to cover up an accusation that Sandusky had raped a boy in a shower in the Penn State football building in 2001.
When has the NCAA ever flexed its excessive muscle so reflexively? It took over two years to rule that agents provided improper benefits to current players at North Carolina. Somehow over four years were needed to determine that Reggie Bush’s family received gifts in violation of NCAA policies.
“When he took the job he thought he could push things through,” said a NCAA source close to Emmert. “He’s become frustrated with how the organization works. It’s slow, bureaucratic.” Yeah, to hell with due process. It’s too damn slow.
So Emmert reigned judge, jury, and executioner over an entire college community. He didn’t give Penn State the death penalty, but you can go ahead and give the school the last rites for the forseeable future anyway.
What didn’t Emmert give Penn State? An official inquiry, an investigation, a written explanation of allegations, a chance for formal response, a hearing before the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions, and the civil decency to wait for the truth to unfold in the forthcoming trials of Schultz and Curley.
The NCAA has acknowledged it had no precedent to punish Penn State. NCAA expert attorney Michael Buckner read the Freeh Report and said it does not show lack of institutional control as defined by the NCAA Manual. The association exists to ensure competitive equity and to follow procedures designed by its member schools. When those procedures are bypassed, consent of the governed goes out the window. Now that the NCAA fancies itself as a court of law, it won’t bother policing itself. The criminal activity of one individual at any school may now lead to sanctions for all.
So what should the NCAA have done? Nothing. That’s what it has always done in cases that fall outside its jurisdiction and all too often in those that fall within it. Of course the association is supposed to promote ethics among its schools. But there’s nothing ethical about any of its PSU punishments.
After all, what good can the NCAA possibly accomplish here? Punitive does not equal preventative. The NCAA has taken the most sinister kind of liberty—grabbing power during a crisis in the name of children.
What Emmert has done is destroy as many as 20 free educations per year so that Penn State carries no more than 65 (instead of the normal 85) players on scholarship over the next four years. That’s $2.4 million worth of free education down the drain until further notice. Ethical?
And what about the victims, most of whom were avid Penn State fans? How do you think they feel about the fact that thousands of innocent people’s lives have been damaged by their coming forward? Thanks to Mark Emmert’s power trip, the sick man who ruined their lives may have indirectly ruined thousands more. Ethical?
And what message is the 111 vacated wins supposed to send? Penn State was never obsessed with winning. It was preoccupied with living up to the image created by the “Grand Experiment,” Paterno’s unprecedented commitment to the philosophy of the scholar-athlete who wanted to do more than just play football. But Emmert has proved that record books and winning games are important by vacating over a decade’s worth of wins as punishment and making sure the Nittany Lions epically suck for at least the next decade.
We already knew that winning comes first in the NCAA. Emmert acknowledged that football is “too big to fail” and overemphasized. He declared on Monday, “hero worship and winning at all costs” will never again come before higher education.
Don’t give the man a standing ovation just yet.
School presidents will always be paid a miniscule fraction of what their football coach makes. Schools will always ditch conferences for more money. The NCAA will allow public bidding for the championship now that it has kissed the BCS system goodbye. The same television networks whose wall-to-wall coverage blasted Penn State for protecting its football program may pay as high as $600 million for media rights to college football’s impending playoff-package championship.
College football is too big to fail. No amount of sanctions on Penn State will ever change that. In a perfect world, all BCS schools would give up big-time athletics to save their souls. To put football in its proper perspective would be to follow the lead of the Ivy League, where academics comes first and playoffs don’t exist. But that will never happen.
The term “culture,” which is as conveniently catch-all as NCAA bylaws, has been used by many to defend his decision without more specific justification.
Just what exactly was wrong with Penn State’s “culture” outside of a select few individuals in the first place that wasn’t wrong elsewhere?
According to a December analysis by the New America Foundation, Penn State tops the list of BCS schools in academic performance. PSU graduates 80% of its football players in six years or less and also shows no achievement gap between its black and white players, which NAF says is extremely rare for Division I football teams. Penn State is a fine school, so let’s not pretend it was ever anything other than an easy target for the normally wishy-washy NCAA.
What was different about Penn State was Joe Paterno. Legacies are subjective, and many will always choose to remember him primarily for his good works. The $4 million in charitable contributions to the university in the interest of education. The fundraising project that raised more than $13 million for renovations to the university library and the renovated portion that became known as the “Paterno Library.” The many on and off the field successes that put PSU on the map as both a football behemoth and a major university. Recognizing and supporting these triumphs makes infinite sense.
The press release and soundbites from Louis Freeh regarding his supposedly definitive report on the Penn State scandal tarnish those achievements. Paterno and the other three principals, Freeh said, “repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Jerry Sandusky’s child abuse from the authorities.”
But the factual details in the 267-page Freeh Report don’t fully back that up. If you read the entire report, you find its accusations against Paterno stem from two incidents.
The 1998 investigation was initiated by the mother of a boy and involved local children and youth authorities, the state Department of Public Welfare, the police and the Centre County district attorney.
The police found a lack of evidence against Sandusky and the DA declined to prosecute him. So what exactly was Paterno supposed to do? Yet Freeh is disgusted that Paterno may have “heard about” the 1998 investigation and failed to act.
In 2001, an assistant, Mike McQueary, saw the retired Sandusky in a shower with a young boy and told Paterno about it the next day.
Paterno reported what McQueary said to two higher Penn State officials, including the one who oversaw the university police force, which has the same authority as a municipal police force.
So Paterno went to the police. What was he supposed to do beyond that?
There is no indication of exactly how much Paterno knew or if he believed that the allegations were true. And it is still unclear whether Paterno knew the severity of what McQueary saw. Remember that McQueary did not report seeing anal intercourse to Paterno, as the prosecutors in the Sandusky case deceitfully claimed.
Yes, Paterno failed to take more action. Yes, he should have done more with the knowledge he had. But he’s no different than the police, the parents, the DA, and other officials who failed Sandusky’s victims.
While too many PSU folks worship Joe Paterno the icon, Joe Paterno the man was not a monster. The facts are not cited here to defend his legacy, but they are empowering truths for anyone who would rather focus on sexual abuse prevention than the moral culpability of a dead man.
One way to prevent sexual abuse is to have competent prosecutors. After investigating Penn State as Attorney General, Governor Tom Corbett participated as a member of the Board of Trustees upon becoming governor, thus sitting on the very board that he was investigating at the time. Ethical?
Corbett personally approved a $3 million taxpayer-funded grant to Sandusky’s Second Mile while knowing that Sandusky was under investigation for multiple child rapes. Ethical?
With a decade’s worth of evidence of Sandusky’s predatory activities, it still took the Attorney General’s Office three years to arrest him. It’s likely that Sandusky continued to molest victims during Corbett’s investigation, which could have prevented by arresting him earlier (standard procedure in many cases with far less evidence). Ethical?
How can we pile on Penn State and Paterno so much and lament these failures so little?
And why have people following this scandal heard more from Bobby Bowden than sexual abuse experts over the last eight months? In the interest of humanity, here are the signs that children have been sexually abused:
- Has trouble swallowing – Has a sudden change in eating habits – Refusal to go to school – Secretiveness – Suddenly has money, toys or other gifts without reason – Sleep problems or nightmares – Unusual interest in or avoidance of all things of a sexual nature
These are the signs that children have been sexually victimized. Heed them well.
Depreciation in the value of a degree. A stigma where a statue used to be. Humiliation that no outsider can hope to understand. These are the signs that a university has been victimized. Heed them well also.
It’s as if Mark Emmert surveyed the tragedies at Penn State and decided to reciprocate everything he found there. Abuse of power met with more abuse of power.
And make no mistake, Emmert has just done to Penn State what Sandusky did for years to his prey. Emmert procured corrupting rewards for the entities he was in charge of and then screwed the most vulnerable one he could find. Now that he’s tossed aside due process and taken his first victim under the guise of beneficence, it’s time to wonder if any school in the NCAA still has a voice of its own. As is often the case with the NCAA, the guilty parties have managed to lie safely beyond reach.
And yet again, the innocent ones pay.
MIKE TONY is a rising junior English and history major from Uniontown, Pa. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org