LITTLE ROCK — How many times have we heard the NCAA cite a member school for something as vague as lack of institutional control and then mete out a sport-specific punishment?
Crimes against children demanded more and the NCAA delivered, moving beyond the usual rhetoric and widening the net to hammer home the point that many at Penn State University were complicit in the atrocities of Jerry Sandusky.
A tarnished image is one thing; a $60 million hit is another, even to a school with thousands of alumni and donors with millions to give. Cash might be a crass response to the Sandusky-induced horror endured by so many, but it is tangible and more easily grasped than a compliance agreement.
Rightly, ramifications from the monetary sanction will affect the athletic department and the school itself. After all, the NCAA said the school-commissioned Freeh report presents an “unprecedented failure of institutional integrity leading to a culture in which a football program was held in higher esteem than the values of the institution …”
According to a report compiled by USA Today Sports and released in May, Penn State’s athletic department spent $101 million in 2011. Like most big-time college athletic programs, football carries most of the other sports and the amount of the sanction is equivalent to the average gross annual revenue of the Nittany Lions’ football program.
Any business would do well to survive after a budget cut of 60 percent and the Big Ten delivered another blow by saying that Penn State would not be allowed to share in the league’s bowl revenue during the school’s postseason ban, an estimated loss of $13 million.
The only way the financial penalty could have been more severe was to assess the school a percentage of football revenues for an extended period. Fifty percent for 10 years, for instance, might have shut down the athletic department.
The loss of scholarships will hurt the football program; so will the ban on postseason play. But, no matter how many scholarships are lost, or the length of a participation ban, those are obstacles that can be overcome. Two years removed from the forfeiture of 30 scholarships and having recently completed a two-year ban on postseason play, USC is a trendy pick to play for the national championship in January. The loss of nine scholarships and a one-year postseason ban will not prevent Ohio State from contending for the Big Ten championship in 2013.
You can question any of the numbers involved in the penalties, but there was no way the NCAA could get it wrong. This was a case unlike any other, handled unlike any other, and the punishment was certain to be unique.
Some may find satisfaction in the fact that Penn State will vacate 111 victories recorded under Joe Paterno from 1998-2011 and that he will be No. 12 instead of No. 1 on the list of winning coaches. Officially, his number was reduced to 298, but those who believe Paterno is taking too much of the blame will continue to credit him with 409. It is unlikely the players on the 2005 team that went 11-1, including a triple overtime victory over Florida State in the Orange Bowl, are going to recognize the NCAA decision. Ditto for players on other teams that were successful in the years cited.
Paterno is dead, Sandusky is incarcerated, and others have vacated positions of responsibility. As always, those who come after the guilty will suffer.
After the Freeh report was released, my reservation was whether reprimands against Penn State fell under the purview of the NCAA. Long term, the NCAA’s reaction to the situation raises a question about what behavior comes under the organization’s jurisdiction. Until now, NCAA investigations generally involved such things as recruiting violations, coaches lying, sports agents and improper benefits for athletes.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.