by Travis Normand
It has been my opinion that the NCAA, and President Mark Emmert, used their position to strong-arm Penn State into the heavy sanctions that were levied upon the school’s football program last month. I am sure most people will read this and interpret it as if I am saying that Penn State doesn’t deserve to be punished, which is an incorrect interpretation.
The NCAA’s lack of consistency in formulating sanctions has attracted a range of criticism. One must only look at USC’s recent punishment, Miami’s non-punishment, and the Cam Newton situation at Auburn/Miss. State to see some clear examples.
With Penn State, the NCAA had a blank check and Mark Emmert wanted to cash it for as much as possible. For the first time in history, the NCAA was going to level a massive punishment upon a school that had not broken a NCAA rule.
However, can you imagine having to go to jail without having committed a crime? When it comes to situations like what happened at Penn State, most people seem to be okay with the idea of “punishing for punishments sake,” or punishing because you have been “bad.” People will cry out for “justice,” when all they really want is punishment. Armed with this mentality, Mark Emmert set out to sanction Penn State, and in doing so, he arguably made the committed crimes into more of a football story than they already were.
So, why did Emmert do this? Some have speculated as to “why;” claiming that it was because Emmert wanted to grab the spotlight. Others have speculated that it was a power play, or opportunity, to show everyone how strong and tough the NCAA can be. I honestly don’t know the reason, but am guessing it may be all of the above.
On the other hand, we have recently watched the NCAA handle situations at USC, Ohio State, UNC, Miami, and others for violations of NCAA rules. Why were those not opportunities for the NCAA to flex its muscle and show its toughness? The only answer I can come up with is that those incidents involved situations that were not moral or criminal issues.
What would have been the public out-cry had Penn State taken the position that the NCAA had no jurisdiction over this situation? It appeared to me that no one really cared whether the NCAA had jurisdiction and that Penn State should just take what was coming. What would Penn State’s argument have been? Would they have argued that they didn’t deserve the sanctions? While they might have been legally correct in doing so, I am not sure anyone would have agreed with them — at least not publicly.
Penn State was a “sitting duck,” and Mark Emmert had to have known this.
The following quote is from an ESPN.com article. It essentially claims that Penn State could have either agreed to the sanctions as given by the NCAA or roll the dice and face a potential four-year death penalty. Is that really even a choice? [emphasis added]
If Penn State had not accepted the package of NCAA sanctions . . . , the Nittany Lions faced a historic death penalty of four years, university president Rodney Erickson told “Outside the Lines” on Wednesday afternoon.
In a separate interview, NCAA president Mark Emmert confirmed that a core group of NCAA school presidents had agreed early last week that an appropriate punishment was no Penn State football for four years.
Emmert told Erickson in a phone conversation on July 17 that a majority of the NCAA’s leadership wanted to levy the four-year penalty because of Penn State’s leaders’ roles in covering up the child sexual abuse of former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.
“Well, that’s a pretty tough number to swallow,” Erickson said he recalled thinking when told of the four-year possibility by Emmert. “It’s unprecedented. It’s a blow to the gut; there’s no doubt about that … I couldn’t agree to that at all.”
Almost immediately after that conversation, intensive discussions between Penn State and the NCAA began in earnest, Erickson said. Penn State lobbied for the NCAA to take the death penalty off the table, and the NCAA described a series of other sanctions, both “punitive and corrective” in nature.
The discussions were so secretive that most members of Penn State’s embattled Board of Trustees had no idea they were happening, several trustees said.
Indeed, the trustees had thought Erickson was officially responding to a Nov. 17 letter of questions from the NCAA. In the interview on Wednesday, Erickson said the letter was set aside last week as the discussions between Penn State and the NCAA intensified.
Erickson said if Penn State did not agree to the sanctions, a formal investigation would have begun and the university could have faced a multiyear death penalty, as well as “other sanctions,” including a financial penalty far greater than $60 million.
“There were figures that were thrown around that were quite large,” he said.
While I am confident in saying that Penn State (and the administration involved) should be punished in some form or fashion, I am also fairly confident in saying that I personally believe the NCAA went about this the wrong way.
In the long-run, I think it would have served the NCAA better to open an investigation, report their findings, and then administer and justify the punishment.