I just don't get it. I've read over the coverage of the NCAA's disciplinary actions against Penn State, I've read some of the reaction in the media and I simply don't get it.
In the case of the Jerry Sandusky sexual-assult matter, how does the punishment fit the crime?
Don't get me wrong: I'm the last person in the world to take the side of a sport, any sport, in the face of the kind of egregious, inhuman, immoral behaviour like we've seen. I hate it when well-known athletes get away with crimes for which the rest of the world, quite deservedly, would be punished severely.
But I can't wrap my mind around how anyone can believe that the sanctions imposed by the NCAA have any significant relationship to the crimes and other immoral behaviours committed by the men who ran Penn State and its football program.
In criminal law, punishment is supposed to be designed to accomplish certain outcomes: punish the perpetrator of the crime, deter others from the idea of committing such crimes, express society's outrage at the crime itself and provide at least some form of consolation to the vicitms of the crime.
Do the NCAA actions accomplish any of these goals? Does it even appear in the most remote way that they are designed with these goals in mind?
Let's take them one at a time.
First, there's punish the perpetrator. The perpetrators, as far as I understand it, were Jerry Sandusky (who apparently committed the many assualts) and Joe Paterno, the former President of Penn State, the former VP Administration of Penn State, and the former AD for Penn State (who failed to address Sandusky's egregious behaviour when they became aware of it). If it's possible, the football culture at Penn State could also be considered a perpetrator.
Do any of the NCAA sanctions affect these perpetrators in any real way? Okay, so they vacated Paterno's victories over the past decade or so, dropping him all the down to 12th in the career-wins lists among college football coaches. Maybe that's something of a punishment to the late coach. Other than that, do the sanctions touch Sandusky or the University administrators at all? Do they do anything to change the football culture? No.
They punish the current players on the team. Young men who made decisions one to four years ago as to where they wished to take their academic and football talents and chose Penn State over any number of other schools. Now those men have to choose between continuity of their academic studies with a more limited football future or changing schools and throwing both their academic and football futures into complete disarray.
They punish the fans of the team, who were guilty of nothing more than pouring their hearts and souls into a football program and their money, let's face it, into the pockets of the University and the NCAA. Unless they are among those who are still refusing to accept the truth of what happened, the fans are also blameless in this.
Second, punishment is intended to deter others from committing similar crimes. Wow. Do you think anybody out there who is considering using their position of power and trust in a university sports program to find young victims for their own sexual pleasures are going to think about what the NCAA did to Penn State football and stop what they're doing. "No, I won't rape this little child; I wouldn't want the head football coach to have some of his career wins vacated."
Will it have any impact on the football culture and whether or not, in the future, university coaches and administrators will take situations like this more seriously? First, let's just pray that there will never be another situation like this. That said, I think the answer is: maybe. Who knows? Maybe some administrator out there, because of these sanctions, will reconsider the risk analysis of choosing to do nothing over taking appropriate steps and say: "Well, that $60-million Penn State got hit with makes all the difference", or "Hey, we wouldn't want to be held out of bowl games and have scholarships taken away" and then do the right thing.
Third, do these sanctions express society's outrage over the crimes? They certainly don't express my outrage. In fact, I think they're fairly cynical. I think they're an effort by the NCAA to try to look like it actually cares when, in fact, it's worried that the Penn State tragedy will negatively impact its own reputation and financial prospects if it doesn't do something. My outrage is aimed at Sandusky, Paterno, those administrators and the people who still want to defend them. Not at the people who are being punished by the NCAA.
And finally, are these sanctions any consolation for the victims of the crime? Quite frankly, I can't answer that. Only those unfortunate young kids and their families can really know how they are responding to the NCAA sanctions. I worry, as have several commentators, that the NCAA actions will serve only to draw attention away from the real issue to the fate of the Penn State football program, creating a real risk that our society will fail to learn the hard lessons that this Penn State situation should be teaching us.
So I don't get it. I don't like it. I can understand the NCAA's motives for taking action (not that I trust them, of course) and I can understand Penn State's decision to accept the sanctions imposed.
But I don't think they're helpful and worry, in fact, that they will do a great deal more harm than good.