N.C.A.A. Lifts All Of Its Sanctions Against Penn State
Well, that punishment didn't last for very long.
While most of the sports journalism world was paying attention to the Ray Rice story yesterday, the NCAA issued a surprise announcement that all of the sanctions that had been imposed against Penn State in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal had been lifted:
The N.C.A.A. on Monday restored Penn State’s postseason eligibility, removing one of the final hurdles in its football team’s path back to normalcy in the aftermath of the child sexual abuse scandal that engulfed the university nearly three years ago.
The decision by the N.C.A.A.’s executive committee means that Penn State will be allowed to participate in a bowl game this season, if it qualifies. It also restores all the scholarships that it stripped from the team.
The move marks a reversal from two years ago, when the N.C.A.A. took the unprecedented — and controversial — step of swiftly barring Penn State’s football team from postseason play for four seasons, slashing its scholarship count and directing $60 million to be put into a national fund for sexual-abuse survivors.
But on Monday, the N.C.A.A. voted to roll back the punishments on the recommendations of former Senator George J. Mitchell, who was hired to monitor Penn State in the aftermath of the case. Mitchell concluded that Penn State had made progress — and that its football players, uninvolved in the abuse case, “bear no personal responsibility” for what transpired in the past.
“In light of Penn State’s responsiveness to its obligations and the many improvements it has instituted, I believe these student-athletes should have the opportunity to play in the postseason should they earn it on the field this year,” Mitchell wrote in a 58-page report. (A year ago, he also recommended that the N.C.A.A. begin to withdraw some sanctions.)
Penn State, in a statement, hailed the decision as recognition of the progress it has made since the case of the former football assistant Jerry Sandusky came to light in November 2011.
“This is welcome news for the university community, particularly for our current and future student-athletes,” said Eric Barron, Penn State’s president.
Also Monday, the N.C.A.A. announced it was withdrawing its challenge to a Pennsylvania state law that sought to redirect the N.C.A.A.’s $60 million fine from a national endowment for sexual-abuse survivors administered by the N.C.A.A. into a Pennsylvania endowment — where that money will now head.
“The money will stay here in Pennsylvania where it belongs,” said Jake Corman, a Pennsylvania state senator who had sued the N.C.A.A.
Corman said the developments in his case and the N.C.A.A.’s decision on bowl eligibility and scholarships were important for the state in moving on.
“This was a criminal case, not an N.C.A.A. case,” he said.
Penn State’s football team, which is 2-0 this season, now has an opportunity to play in a bowl game for the first time since the 2011 season — a time when the football program was in turmoil in light of the Sandusky case and Joe Paterno’s firing.
“This team plays for each other,” James Franklin, Penn State’s current coach, said in a statement. “We play for Penn State, our families, the former players, our students, alumni, fans and the community.”
But the N.C.A.A.’s retreat on Penn State left some observers wondering whether the association had undercut its own authority.
“What’s to prevent an institution from being a model citizen” after sanctions are imposed and then expecting lenience for good behavior, asked Dan Beebe, the former commissioner of the Big 12 Conference and a former enforcement director for the N.C.A.A.
Even accepting the accuracy of the assertion that Penn State had done much in the past two years to clean up the issues that led to the cover-up of Sandusky’s crimes, it seems to me that this decision sends entirely the wrong signal to football programs across the country. The point of what were described at the time as unprecedented, crippling sanctions wasn’t to stop Penn State from some ongoing behavior, indeed by the time the sanctions were imposed Sandusky was in jail and everyone associated with the cover-up and lack of response to his crimes was gone. The point of the sanctions was to punish the university, and specifically its football program, for a course of conduct that was unprecedented in the modern history of college football. What, exactly, is the point of that punishment if the NCAA decides two years after the fact that the punishment isn’t necessarily any more because of the “progress” that Penn State has made? There was never any question that the scope of the Sandusky scandal was going to cause the university to reform its football program, so it seems absurd to me to say this “progress” is sufficient reason to remove the sanctions completely. The lesson that this seems to teach college football programs is that if you mess up, you might get hit with sanctions form the NCAA, but if you accept your punishment and make some changes those sanctions will probably be lifted at some point int he near future. That doesn’t strike me as a very good deterrent of bad behavior on the part of big-time college football programs that, thanks to the rise of the mega-conferences, are becoming increasingly independent of the NCAA to begin with.
No doubt, this will all be viewed as good news in Happy Valley. There has already been talk about rewriting the legacy of Joe Paterno, and even putting a statue of the long time Nittany Lions coach back up. As it was, the sanctions themselves didn’t seem to have nearly as big an impact on the football program as many anticipated, with the team putting up an 8-4 record in 2012 and 7-5 in 2013. The team wouldn’t have made it to the Big Ten Championship either year, but they probably would’ve gotten bowl bids. Now, they’ll be eligible for both. Somewhere along the way, I’m not sure they they’ve actually learned their lesson.
In any case, along with the fact that it will be their first meeting in 20 years, this gives me another reason to root for my alma mater when the meet the Nittany Lions on Saturday.