Not everyone sees it that way; some are saying the NCAA shouldn’t impose a “death penalty” akin to the punishment meted out to Southern Methodist University in the 1980s.
“I’ve been known to call out the NCAA and president Mark Emmert from time to time but now it’s time to turn the finger around and point it at the sports media for demanding the NCAA issue the ‘death penalty’ to Penn State,” contends sportswriter Jim Weber. “As soon as the Freeh Report was released on Thursday, it felt like every sports writer in America with a column screamed at the top of their lungs that the NCAA should shut down the Penn State football program for at least a year.”
He says it’s a “knee-jerk” reaction, intended to fill time in the “24-hour news cycle.”
For the record, this newspaper called for that NCAA action June 27, before former FBI Director Louis Freeh released his report. Regardless of timing, the call still stands.
Penn State’s crimes — and they were indeed crimes — warrant the fullest penalty the NCAA can issue.
Weber acknowledges crimes were committed, but says that’s not something the NCAA should address.
“People forget that SMU was handed the death penalty in 1987 because it egregiously broke NCAA rules and had a history of being placed on probation,” he says. “The message clearly wasn’t getting through, leaving the NCAA almost no choice. But in this case, Penn State broke federal laws, not NCAA rules.”
But let’s look at the NCAA’s mission. In its own words, “The NCAA was founded in 1906 to protect young people from the dangerous and exploitive athletics practices of the time.”
Of course, the organization initially addressed football injuries, but in the larger sense, protecting “young people from the dangerous and exploitive athletics practices” is exactly what Penn State failed to do.
It seems that Weber and other defenders of Nittany Lion football want the NCAA to stick to sports issues — to keep to its “jurisdiction” — and leave criminal matters to others. But that’s doing a disservice to Penn State and to college athletics as a whole. As coaches never tire of saying, sports build character, and make student athletes more well-rounded citizens.
How can that be squared with giving Penn State a pass on this?
Certainly, SMU’s crimes were egregious. An investigation showed 21 players had received at least $61,000, provided by a booster. The coaching staff was complicit. And when a player blew the whistle, SMU attempted a cover-up.
But for all of that, no one was injured in the scandal. The pain and suffering and psychological damage inflicted on the (so far) 20 victims who have come forward is undeniable. The case cries out for the NCAA to step in and demonstrate that when you break the rules, you lose. Isn’t that the point of college sports?
If the NCAA decides not to act, Penn State should shut down its football program on its own — for a year, at least.
Even that would be getting off light.