NCAA – Penn State Sanctions – Justified? Legal?

Penn State Sandusky ScandalI’ve had some time to process the penalties the NCAA meted out to Penn State over the Jerry Sandusky, Joe Paterno child molestation cover up and I’m going to blog about it now. My question is whether the NCAA has the authority and/or obligation to punish the football program in this instance.

I’m sure most of you don’t need a recap but for the sake of thoroughness I’ll go over the situation quickly. A Penn State football coach, Jerry Sandusky, was convicted of child molestation. A subsequent report indicated that people at the top-level of the football program and university hid evidence of these attacks and allowed Sandusky to continue to be associated with the university and assault other young boys for many years.

In full disclosure I will admit that I have a bias against the NCAA governing body and their rank hypocrisy in rulings against student athletes who generate billions in revenue for the various universities and gain a free college education in return. Said students are allowed no financial remuneration and are often suspended or kicked out of school for taking small gifts or selling their game jerseys. There is an excellent South Park episode about this particular topic worth watching.

Back to the topic at hand, does the NCAA have the right to punish Penn State in this case? A perusal of the NCAA Manual seems to indicate the organization has pretty much the right to do whatever it wants, for whatever reason, to any member school.

I can tell you that likely every university in the country has had a sex scandal covered up by someone. Trust me, the list through the link is nothing. I went to college at the University of Idaho and there was sex between coaches and athletes plenty. There was money changing hands under the table plenty. This wasn’t even a major university. I’m sure a few readers can chime in with comments about their own experience. My point isn’t that such activities are normal and fine, my point is where does the NCAA get the right to choose which acts they will punish and which they will ignore?

From the other perspective, the events at Penn State are particularly vile and the cover-up truly disgusting by any standard. If the NCAA is supposed to govern these organizations then don’t they have not only a right, but an absolute duty, to bring down powerful penalties against the school?

The penalty handed down certainly affect most greatly those completely uninvolved in the incident but can the NCAA simply use that as an excuse to not penalize? For the most part the NCAA finds out about violations after the parties involved have moved on. Do they not have to penalize the organization as a whole in order to try to force others to follow the rules?

It’s a difficult question to answer but I’m not one to shy away.

I think the NCAA is out-of-bounds on this one because the activity in question really had nothing to do with their governing authority. The NCAA is not responsible for a coach who commits vehicular manslaughter, rape, or shop-lifting. Those are illegal act and subject to the laws of the state. The NCAA hands down penalties for recruiting violations which are not illegal, just against the NCAA regulations. This is their venue.

Sandusky is in prison where he belongs. Joe Paterno’s legacy is destroyed, which it should be. The others involved in this horrific incident will soon face their day in court. It’s just not the NCAA’s job to punish this crime. By claiming that they have the right to do so they are taking on far more responsibility than to which they are legally entitled, in my opinion at least. A number of entities punished in this ruling might well have legal recourse against the NCAA and we will see how all that plays out over the coming months and years.

I think the NCAA will rue the day they decided to get involved in this case when more criminal misconduct cases arise and they are forced to make rulings on events to which they should not be involved.

I don’t think my opinion will be too popular and I welcome those who would disagree! Tell me in the comments.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
New Release: The Hammer of Fire