N.C.A.A. Lifts All Of Its Sanctions Against Penn State

Well, that punishment didn't last for very long.

Penn State Removes Joe Paterno Statue

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.

FILED UNDER: Crime, Education, Sports, , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. C. Clavin says:

    My niece is a sophomore in Happy Valley…so good for her I suppose.
    Sure…the players bear no responsibility…but as you say…the institution was being punished.
    Kinda weakens the sanctions threat in the future.

  2. Pinky says:

    I saw that the Penn State game was on ESPN a couple of days ago. Even under sanctions, they can get a national audience. And a live audience as well – they have the second-largest college stadium in the US. Unfortunately, it looks like that kind of revenue stream carries clout in college football.

    That said, I always thought that the sanctions were over-the-top. I never got the impression that they’d shown a systematic problem in the program, although they said they did. The vacating of past wins seemed particularly absurd to me.

  3. John D'Geek says:

    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.

    Exactly.

    There is, especially in Pennsylvania, the serious question as to what authority the NCAA has in a criminal case. By doing this, they get PA — and especially certain state political figures — to shut up and accept NCAA authority.

    If they got “hard nosed” it winds up in Pennsylvania Courts — where even the Supreme Court judges can be recalled if they tick off the voters enough. Which pretty much guarantees that it goes before the Supreme Court, which is pretty much a crap shoot for the NCAA.

    Keep authority: check.

  4. PAUL HOOSON says:

    Maybe I’m dyslexic, or should that actually read STATE PENN…..

  5. , 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

    Except that it didn’t, since the school is still under probation, still under the oversight of an outside authority, still required to pay the $60 million dollar fine, and still lost all of the wins from the time period covered by the scandal. And while the school can attend a bowl game, it’s not elligible to get any revenue for doing so. In other words, the school is still being punished, just not the kids on the team, most of whom weren’t even around when the scandal occurred.

    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.

    Given that the purpose of the sanctions was to eliminate a “football above all else” mindset, focussing purely on the team’s win-loss record seems are rather odd way to measure the effectiveness of the sanctions.

    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.

    Ah so this is really just your personal pep-rally, not an expression of actual concern with the issues involved.

  6. Trumwill says:

    I think this was long overdue. It is excessively punitive to wait until an athletics program has gone two whole years without – to our knowledge – being complicit in the coverup of sexual abuse of childen, before letting bygones be bygones.

  7. Crusty Dem says:

    That said, I always thought that the sanctions were over-the-top. I never got the impression that they’d shown a systematic problem in the program

    Wow. Their Head Coach and the President of the University collaborated to cover up the rape of children in the team football facilities. The rapist (a University employee) was aided in avoiding investigation, allowed to resign, and allowed to continue bringing children onto University property. But someone contacted other schools who considered hiring him so he didn’t get a head coaching job elsewhere..

    It’s only through cowardice and incompetence that the school is ever allowed to have a football team again.

  8. Tyrell says:

    The people who were involved and/ or helped cover up are the ones to be held accountable and suffer the consequences: both from the NCAA and the legal system . That means anyone from the president to the maintenance crew.
    The players, students, and employees who had nothing to do with this should not be punished.
    As far as NCAA and their athletic program, I wonder what steps, procedures, and safeguards they have implemented, required, and monitored so that this sort of thing does not happen again on any campus or athletic program.

  9. @Tyrell:

    I wonder what steps, procedures, and safeguards they have implemented, required, and monitored so that this sort of thing does not happen again on any campus or athletic program.

    http://www.dlapiper.com/~/media/Files/Insights/Publications/2014/09/NCAAMonitorsSecondAnnualReport.pdf

  10. Crusty Dem says:

    @Tyrell:

    Football players could transfer to other programs without penalty.

    I fail to see why students or other employees should be considered in a punishment of this nature.

  11. Trumwill says:

    Seriously, where the hell is all of this “We can’t punish players who weren’t involved” business coming from? How is it that people think sanctions actually work? We can help the players who were caught in the middle by allowing them to transfer. But beyond that, there is no way to punish a “program” without punishing those who work or play for said “program.”

    In this case, if I recall Freshman and Sophomores were allowed to transfer. It should have been everybody, but one mistake need not justify another. Lower classmen decided on Penn State knowing that there would be sanctions in place, so I am not sure why I should have much sympathy.

  12. PAUL HOOSON says:

    Let this be a clear warning to any college sports program that harbors a climate of criminal sex abuse and cover-ups…..You’ll get a couple of years of program probation, and that’s an ironclad promise!

  13. C. Clavin says:

    Look…The Catholic Church has gotten away with hat boring pedophiles for eons.
    Why is Penn State any different?

  14. C. Clavin says:

    @C. Clavin:
    Harboring…not hat boring.

  15. Crusty Dem says:

    Hat boring pedophiles are the worst kind. The poor ruined pope hats…

  16. C. Clavin says:

    @Crusty Dem:
    And those things are pointy.

    At any rate if pedophilia is good by God…who is the NCAA to complain?

  17. Tyrell says:

    @Trumwill: Think about the situation in MLB and drug use, lately being the A Rod situation. The New York Yankee baseball club was not punished, unless you count them having to play baseball games without the services of the player. Wins and playoff records were not taken away, nor tv broadcasts or playoff eligibility. So sanctions against a whole team or program did not seem right. They have already punished all (supposedly) those individuals involved. It is true that college football is a huge, powerful money making corporation. Trying to change that type of “culture” and environment will not happen unless people quit attending, donating money, watching games on tv, and buying collegiate apparel and merchandise. It is too ingrained. Not too many things have hold over whole towns and even states like college sports does.
    It just seemed to me there were more people involved or knew something was going on than actually was found by the police.
    Good points though.

  18. Trumwill says:

    @Tyrell: I’d like to think that the NCAA can do a better job with the “Not covering up child rape” than MLB does with its steroid problem. I admit I am getting a bit high-and-mighty, especially for someone who was actually likewarm on the manner in which these punishments were handed down*.

    I’m actually against vacating wins, 95% of the time and found it a very inappropriate punishment for Penn State. Not so much because it’s unfair to the players, even if it is, but mostly because it’s stupid. Everybody knows who won those games and that they didn’t cheat to do it. We’re just trying to pretend that Joe Paterno isn’t the winningest coach in top-tier football, when in fact we know that he is.

    But when you do have to punish a program, it’s impossible for that not to wash onto the players. The best you can do is allow players to transfer penalty-free. They did that with the lower-classmen. They should have done it with everybody. But even if you minimize the impact on the players, you simply can’t avoid it.

    * – At the time, it felt more like We Have To Do Something than any accordance with the rules or league due process. Penn State agreed ahead of time, though they did so under duress. I actually feel a bit vindicated on this, since the flipside to Do Something Now is, once the headlines have past, quietly undoing it. Once the punishments were issued, I believe that it was extremely important to stick to them unless there were truly mitigating circumstances. “We haven’t been caught allowing child rape since” doesn’t qualify.

  19. James Joyner says:

    I can’t imagine the fact that this announcement was made the same day as the announcement that the NCAA had settled its lawsuit with Pennsylvania allowing the Commonwealth to keep the $60 million fine for use on programs inside its borders is coincidental. That is, I think they thought they were going to lose a lawsuit and backed out as gracefully as they could.

  20. Hal_10000 says:

    I always like to link this when this subject comes up:

    http://chronicle.com/article/Why-I-Resigned-the-Paterno/134944/

    I’m a bit too close to comment on this objectively. I will say, however, that the fundamental problem was that the state, by law, put the decision to go to authorities into the hands of a few individuals who decided to protect their friend rather than do the right thing. Justice has yet to be brought to those men.

  21. Pinky says:

    @Crusty Dem: I conked out about halfway through the initial 80-page report. I’m sure I missed things. But it really seemed to me like they were making a weak case against the others.

  22. EddieInCA says:

    One school has ONE athlete take approx $75,000 in gifts and housing – illegally by NCAA standards – and gets four years probation, scholarships cut, no post season bowls for several years – and have to serve their entire penalty. This would be USC.

    Another school had a predator in a position of power who raped children over several years, then proceeded with a huge coverup involving multiple senior administrators, and, after two years, has their penalty cut substantially. This would be Penn State.

    Nice to know where the priorities of the NCAA are….

  23. Boyd says:

    Then and now, I believe(d) that a multi-year death penalty would be the appropriate punishment for Penn State.

    Regarding the cries for sympathy for the “innocent,” the players can go to a different school. In fact, that should be one of the points of the punishment: to encourage players to not choose Penn State because of the school’s despicable behavior.

    Other complaints were that businesses in and around State College would be unfairly punished for the school’s behavior. I vehemently disagree. Their deification of Paterno contributed to the environment that allowed Sandusky to continue his unconscionable behavior. They should have been punished along with the school.

  24. Remember folks, if we can’t punish a girlfriend-beating piece of shit because it might cause him, and by extension his now wife, to lose some money, how can we punish a school that covered up the decade plus long sexual abuse of at least 10 children because it might affect ~120 students who are supposed to be there to get an education?

  25. superdestroyer says:

    @Timothy Watson:

    NCAA Division I teams at limited to 85 scholarships at any one time.

  26. Tyrell says:

    @Boyd: It would be unfair and inappropriate to punish people who had nothing to do with the crimes. Players, faculty, employees, people who work the games as a source of extra income, stores, rsstaurants, and many businesses. Think of a man who depends on a part time job working at the stadium to supplement his income from social security. Why should he have to suffer a job loss when he did nothing wrong. You don’t shut down a company because a few workers are dishonest. There was an investigation, led by a former FBI director himself. You can’t get any more thorough and expert than that. Those who were involved were punished. Senator Mitchell, an esteemed and honored leader, states that the university has been responsive and that improvements have been instituted. I just don’t know of anything else that can or needs to be done. As far as this “deification” of Coach Paterno, I don’t know what you can do about that. This is done with a lot of coaches and players, until they start losing.
    They locked up Sanduskey, so there is nothing else to be done. Time to move on.

  27. @superdestroyer: Their scholarships might be limited, but this roster shows 117 players:
    http://www.gopsusports.com/sports/m-footbl/mtt/psu-m-footbl-mtt.html

  28. superdestroyer says:

    @Timothy Watson:

    The difference is due to walk-ons and they are not on scholarship. They are actually paying to be there, they will not be paid in the future, they cannot actually play for all four years, and they do not get to eat from the training table according to NCAA Rules,

    I suspect that Penn State would be one of the first schools to do away with scholarship limits in order to recruit many players who will never play for Penn State but would be keep off other teams rosters.

  29. Tony W says:

    @Trumwill: That’s not fair – it’s not like the abuse was video taped after all.

  30. Barry says:

    @C. Clavin: “My niece is a sophomore in Happy Valley…so good for her I suppose.”

    Unless she’s raped. IMHO, the start of this whole mess was nothing to do with children, but football/basketball players in star teams being given a wide pass on raping women. Once that was the norm, turning a blind eye to raping children was just an extension of ‘normal’ behavior.

    How many rapes do you think that Paterno and the Penn State administration covered up over the decades?

  31. Barry says:

    @Tyrell: “They locked up Sanduskey, so there is nothing else to be done. ”

    Full f-ing sh*t. The administrators who at one point banned him from bringing minors onto campus have not been sent to jail.

  32. JKB says:

    @C. Clavin:

    Probably a good bet for your niece to go there. The rape culture at Penn State was centered around small boys.

  33. JKB says:

    @C. Clavin: At any rate if pedophilia is good by God…

    Don’t forget Allah. He’s apparently also good with pedophilia and child sex slavery.

  34. JKB says:

    @Tyrell: As far as this “deification” of Coach Paterno, I don’t know what you can do about that.

    They could accurately portray the even when the reinstall the statue. Just the addition of a small, naked boy on the ground beseeching Paterno as he’s trampled under the feet of the oncoming players.

    Very concise and very historically accurate.

  35. JKB says:

    @Barry:

    Yeah, it’s not like Paterno or one of the university administrators couldn’t call up the head of the state bureau of investigation to have a quiet investigation done. But they chose not to use their power for good. It was all about protecting the revenue.

  36. Boyd says:

    @Tyrell: Sure they’re guilty. They created and participated in the culture that deified Paterno. They were definitely part of the problem.

  37. Tyrell says:

    @Boyd: Ok, I see and understand that, as I have known people that were so obsessed and preoccupied with their alma mater or favorite college team that to me bordered on some kind of mental problem: the team takes priority over family, work, everything. That certainly can lead to what we have seen at Penn State. But the guy at the stadium selling hot dogs or cleaning up after the game should not have to suffer, or the person trying to sell shirts and car flags. I know these players can transfer, but does their scholarship go with them? I don’t know. But young people get their dream of a certain school and it would be sad that their dream is dashed through someone elses actions.
    And now the NCAA has another problem. It seems last Saturday that an athletic director at some big school blew a fuse and ran down on the field to jump on the refs. Something that shocked the tv broadcasters and the coach even had to hold him back.

  38. Pinky says:

    Every punishment in this world is imperfect justice. If you put a killer behind bars, his innocent family suffers, the community has to pay for his living expenses, and most importantly, the victim doesn’t come back to life.

    No one who “deified” Paterno is guilty of Sandusky’s actions, unless they themselves failed to perform due diligence in some respect.

  39. bill says:

    @C. Clavin: i hear you, the kids who already signed up are the ones who bear the brunt as the school can endure and the kids have 3-4years to prove something/get educated. i can’t stand when the coaches do all the illegal stuff and then bolt for the nfl or something, scot-free. the school gets nailed and the kids suffer- reason #1 why i despise carroll ( i liked him when he was with the patriots back in the day). he’s not the only one though, the list grows each year.

  40. Barry says:

    @James Joyner: “I can’t imagine the fact that this announcement was made the same day as the announcement that the NCAA had settled its lawsuit with Pennsylvania allowing the Commonwealth to keep the $60 million fine for use on programs inside its borders is coincidental. That is, I think they thought they were going to lose a lawsuit and backed out as gracefully as they could.”

    Unfortunately, I agree. It looks like the NCAA weighed child molestation in one hand, millions of $$ in the other, and came to the same conclusion as Penn Stated did back in the day.

  41. Barry says:

    @JKB: “Probably a good bet for your niece to go there. The rape culture at Penn State was centered around small boys.”

    The one which caused the mega-problems. Do you think that the people who turned a blind eye for years to child molestation would have the slightest problem turning a blind eye to women being raped?