Following Gordon's post yeseterday on the Penn State "nondeath penalty," I started thinking more about whether NCAA sanctions against Penn State are a good idea.
Now, I don't mean whether the sanctions are too harsh or will have collateral effects on innocent Penn State programs, students and alumni. Of course sanctions will have collateral effects, just as disclosure of the events at the heart of the sanctions did. The decline in the reputation of Penn State hurts employees, students and alumni. The financial penalty as well as lost revenue will result in a different academic budget that will affect the same groups. These effects are not super great reasons not to punish an organization. Many folks in our field think a lot about the merits of organizational sanctions, and the Penn State scenario is no different from the SEC levying fines against an investment bank or any other large firm that employees folks and has shareholders.
Here is why I'm concerned that NCAA sanctions aren't a great idea. What Sandusky did and his colleagues covered up was categorically different and categorically worse than having a slush fund for players (SMU); letting agents pay a player (USC); letting students trade autographed jerseys for cash (Ohio State); or letting boosters lavish players with cash, prostitutes and entertainment (Miami). All of those things are against the spirit of amateur sports, but they aren't things that require the devil to grow a new mouth for the accuseds to rot in. Giving someone money isn't per se a horrible thing; giving someone money in the context of collegiate athletics is. The heinous acts that occurred in and around the Penn State locker room are heinous in any context.
Let's picture this. SMU was banned from playing for 1987 and hosting home games for 1988 and lost 55 scholarships over 4 years for "X." Penn State was not banned from playing, was fined $60 million, banned from bowl games for 4 years and lost 40 scholarships over 4 years for "Y." Does that mean that the NCAA thinks that "X" is worse than "Y"? USC lost 30 scholarships over 3 years and was banned from bowl games for 2 years for "Z." Does the NCAA think that "Z" is 3/4 or 2/3 as bad as "Y"? Miami is still awaiting its sanction for allegations made in 2011 of "W." What if Miami gets a harsher penalty than Penn State? It has to get a harsher penalty than USC, and there's not a lot of real estate between USC's penalty and Penn State's penalty.
Do we really want to put the bad acts of the Penn State officers on the same spectrum as recruiting violations and payouts to players?
I don't mourn the fallout at Penn State due to the NCAA sanctions, but I am concerned with the symbolism.
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