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NCAA: Posturing and Power-Grabbing

2012 July 23
by Brian Goff

Phil’s post offers an analytical view of the  sanctions imposed on Penn State regarding the Sandusky affair.  I’m going straight to polemics.  While a number of writers have made similar points, David Zirin at The Nation parallels my sentiments very closely:

Today marked a stomach-turning, precedent-setting and lawless turning point in the history of the NCAA. The punishment levied by Emmert was nothing less than an extra-legal, extrajudicial imposition into the affairs of a publicly funded campus. If allowed to stand, the repercussions will be felt far beyond Happy Valley. Take a step back from the hysteria and just think about what took place: Penn State committed no violations of any NCAA bylaws. There were no secret payments to “student-athletes,” no cheating on tests, no improper phone calls, no using cream cheese instead of butter on a recruit’s bagel, or any of the Byzantine minutiae that fills the time-sheets that justify Mark Emmert’s $1.6 million salary.

What Penn State did was commit horrific violations of criminal and civil laws, and it should pay every possible price for shielding Sandusky, the child rapist. This is why we have a society with civil and criminal courts.

Instead, under the seemingly limitless mantra of “lack of institutional control” the NCAA has thrown any notion of jurisdiction to the wind and decided that anything pertaining to the athletic department or personnel comes under their purview in their high-minded world.  One would think that to apply the “lack of institutional control” banner would mean that the institution is not controlling some activity governed by NCAA administrative rules and regulations.  By this precedent, any conduct by athletics-related personnel whether criminal (murder, embezzlement, spousal abuse, …) or possibly civil or not meeting some kind of NCAA-cultural standard that is abetted, covered up, or not punished sufficiently by the university fits into the NCAA world, at least when NCAA enforcers feel moralistic or societal pressure. Given that PSU is in total shame and penance mode (with good reason), they are unlikely to stand up against the NCAA’s aggression (see NBC Sports post.)

In my 30 years of following and studying the NCAA, many adjectives come to mind for its high-level staff and many of the high-profile university academics and presidents who guide it  — hypocritical, self-righteous, attention-seeking, politically correct . The characteristic that has been most troubling to me, however, is their ceaseless effort to extend their reach.  In the 1980s, it was the (largely successful) effort to have state and federal authorities pass laws that translated their administrative laws into civil and criminal codes (through things like anti-agent laws).  In the 2000s, they attempted to co-opt the NFL into an enforcement agent to impost penalties for NCAA violation — an attempt, that has been unsuccessful so far.  Now, in an effort to show the world just how morally indignant and serious they are, they impose sanctions in a case that has nothing to do with NCAA rules.

6 Responses
  1. Richar McCann permalink
    July 23, 2012

    I look at this differently. I agree that the NCAA has been zealously overextending its reach, but the interest behind this overreach has been the financial interests of the NCAA and key member institutions. This could be an important turning point in which the NCAA steps up and accepts that it needs to focus on moral and ethical issues, and to really focus on the bigger matter of reigning in out of control athletic departments. Yes, this is extralegal but the most important policy changes in our country’s history–almost all of them beneficial such as in civil rights–have been extralegal at the time. Maybe we’ll see a different NCAA and with this, a different set of university athletic departments.

  2. Kayla Ramiscal permalink
    July 23, 2012

    I have never thought about it that way before! I realize there needed to be some level of punishment but I never thought about how the crimes committed did not technically violate any NCAA bylaws.

    Out of curiosity, what do you think the NCAA should have done? Is there any aspect of this case the NCAA should have been involved and issued penalties?

  3. Michael C permalink
    July 24, 2012

    SI’s Mandel wrote: “Remember when most college football fans assumed Auburn and/or Cam Newton would endure some sort of penalty when the quarterback’s father openly solicited six figures from Mississippi State? The NCAA couldn’t do anything, Emmert insisted, because there was no rule on the books addressing that specific scenario. We’d best not hear that excuse again.
    Remember the 2003 murder of Baylor basketball player Patrick Dennehy by a former player, and head coach Dave Bliss’ subsequent attempt to falsely portray Dennehy as a drug dealer to cover up for illegal tuition payments he’d made? Would Emmert (who was not yet with the NCAA at the time) step in if that indisputably heinous case arose today? If not, why? What’s the threshold in determining whether something is special-jurisdiction-caliber repulsive or leave-it-to-the-enforcement-department-level disturbing?”

  4. Zenon Zygmont permalink
    July 25, 2012

    It is always reassuring to see the NCAA doing what it does best: protecting the college sports hen house from dead foxes, not live ones.

  5. July 26, 2012

    From what I understand, the cover-up of Sandusky was in an effort to protect the football program. Therefore, the Penn State administration overvalued football at the expense of the NCAA’s and the university’s goals of institutional integrity. Since the government will target individuals rather than football programs, the NCAA needed to address the social cost of programs that value football over human lives.

    It’s not setting a precedent that ANY crime will be addressed by the NCAA. It is setting a precedent that the NCAA will address crimes that are made in an effort to protect a football program or its competitive standing (in this case, Penn State stood to lose out on recruiting, prestige, and Joe Paterno’s leadership if he were fired).

    As for purely civil crimes unrelated to football, I agree the NCAA would be entering a gray area if it addressed them in order to save face. On the other hand, most employers care about their image in a similar way and fine, fire, or refuse to hire criminals for certain positions. Of course, this is another deep discussion of its own.

  6. Dan permalink
    July 29, 2012

    When the Sandusky news hit last year and talking heads asked if the NCAA would step in and investigate PSU, I wondered why they would. Does the NCAA always step in when a former coach commits a criminal offense? Do they get involved whenever a crime is committed on school property or just in athletic facilities?

    The NCAA took the Freeh report and dished out punishment based on that. But there were important parties to the Sandusky crimes that did not talk to Freeh. They are facing criminal charges and are under no obligation to talk to anyone. Why can’t the NCAA wait until the trials are over? If they are going to stick their nose into this mess shouldn’t they have all the facts?

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