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NCAA Decimates Penn State Football, But is it Justified?

A day after Penn State removed its statue of legendary football coach Joe Paterno, the NCAA brought crippling sanctions against Penn State’s football program.

The NCAA fined the program $60 million, a sum equivalent to the annual gross revenue of the football program, which must be given as endowments to programs preventing child sex abuse. The NCAA also banned Penn State from the postseason for 4 years and will cap the number of scholarships awarded to the program at 20 below the normal level of 85 for 4 years. On top of this, the football program will be under probation for 5 years, and any current or incoming football players are free to transfer and compete at other schools, essentially reducing the entire team to free agency.

Joe Paterno, formerly the winningest coach in college football, will also lose all wins accredited to him from 1998 through 2011, a totall of 112 wins. This makes former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden the winningest coach in college football.

The NCAA also reserves the right to levy additional penalties against Penn State.

These sanctions stop just short of the ‘death penalty’, which would shut down Penn State’s football team, many are calling for on the back of assistant coach Jerry Sandusky’s conviction for child sex abuse and allegations of cover ups by high ranking school officials, including legendary coach Joe Paterno.

An internal investigation conducted by Penn State reports Joe Paterno not only covered up Sandusky’s abuses, but dissuaded others from reporting incidents to authorities.

Paterno’s family has vehemently denied these allegations, calling into question the objectivity of former FBI director Louis Freeh, who conducted the investigation. The family claims Paterno is being used as a scapegoat, since his death prevents him from defending himself, and maintain Freeh’s findings are an indictment that is unofficial and not representative of the entire truth.

Although the internal investigation suggested Paterno covered for Sandusky, Paterno’s actions in incidents in 1998 and 2001, when he reported his suspicions to authorities in the college, do call this finding into question, as does his willingness to have Freeh investigate.

The point is, there is contention, not clarity, about Paterno’s involvment. And this is a society where a man is innocent until proven guilty, so does Paterno really deserve to have his reputation destroyed before his involvment is conclusively proven?

And even if Paterno and other school officials are guilty, is that really justification for crippling the school’s football program? How does punishing the players vindicate the victims of Sandusky’s behavior or Paterno’s alleged cover ups? The players are not responsible for Paterno’s or Sandusky’s actions.

NCAA president Mark Emmert justified the harsh sanctions against Penn State by stating, “The sanctions needed to reflect our goals of providing cultural change.”

But is ‘providing cultural change’ really the prerogative of a collegiate athletic organization? Or is that the prerogative of the legal system? The NCAA exists to regulate the activity pertaining to the sports clubs within their organization, to make sure the teams play the game honestly and fairly, to make sure the players aren’t being endangered. As Paterno wrote in a letter to the Penn State community before his death, this is not a football scandal. The scandal does not revolve around actions committed when the individuals involved were acting in their capacity as part of the football team. And the football players do not deserve to be so completely decimated because of it.

If it is proven that Paterno is guilty of covering up Sandusky’s crimes, then his reputation as a coach deserves to suffer, since he championed success through honor. But certainly not before anything has been proven. This situation is precisely what John Adams was warning against when he stated that we are a nation of laws, and not men. Jo Paterno, and his football team, deserve to be fairly tried by concrete evidence, not just on the insinuations and allegations of the court of public opinion.

 

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