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Why Penn State Got Off Easy…

So, after much speculation, the NCAA sanctions against Penn State were leveled on Monday: $60 million in penalties (to be used for “external programs preventing child sexual abuse or assisting victims and may not be used to fund such programs at the university.), a four-year postseason ban, the elimination of 10 initial and 20 total scholarships each year for a four-year period, and vacating all wins dating back to 1998.

Yes, initially, it sounds harsh.  However, it’s little more than a slap in the wrist that failed to address the real issues in order to preserve the NCAA’s self-interests.

Call me an idealist, but the purpose of a University, College, or Institute of Technology is to provide high schoolers with the education and skills they need to contribute in the workforce in the next phase of their lives.  That’s why we refer to them as “academic institutions”.

Athletics was meant to be an “extracurricular”, an optional addition to ones curriculum, in order to give students an outlet for competition and physical activity.  Unfortunately, over the years of rabid fandom and alumni/community pride, athletics have taken on a life of their own.  And for many schools in the top tier of competition, have completely overshadowed the school’s academic contributions.  In many cases, the athletic department has become the financial lifeline for the school, whether through direct income or alumni contributions.  And that’s become part of the problem.

The Penn State scandal isn’t the first time we’ve seen a school compromise their original focus in favor of protecting their financial flows.  For years, athletes have been able to skirt the academic requirements for playing (the Minnesota test-taking aide comes to mind), and other schools have gone out of their way to bribe recruits in order provide a better product in order to draw in more money (SMU, USC), and others had players break rules and try to ignore those facts (like OSU and Jim Tressell).

However, with PSU, school officials looked the other way when a key member of their coaching staff was suspected of (many would say heinous) criminal activity taking place on the school’s campus.  Instead of reporting it to officials, they quietly shuffled Sandusky into retirement so they could disassociate themselves should anything worse happen.

More plainly, they let Sandusky ruin the lives of numerous children, and continue to do so, in order to make sure that the turnstiles kept turning.  To quote PSU alum, and current Cowboys LB Sean Lee: “Obviously I don’t support the actions of how they handled that situation at all. The facts have shown they didn’t report Sandusky and what happened and because of it more kids got hurt. That’s what the facts show and I don’t agree with that at all. This should’ve been reported right away. There should’ve been procedures in place where this is what we do, investigation and go from there and more kids wouldn’t have been hurt. I actually think the Freeh Report was a good thing because it shows where Penn State can go, how they can improve on some things so something as horrible as it did will never happen again.”

The NCAA issued the penalties they have because they had to do something…everyone was expecting them to.  However, they were too timid to issue the death penalty, which would have been the ultimate reminder that athletics is not the mission of the schools and that criminal activity to protect athletics will not be tolerated.

The reason they were too timid is because it would have been akin to a congressman signing a bill to give themselves a paycut.  Sure, it looks good, but most people don’t volunteer for something that’s going to be financially detrimental to themselves.  And as long as academic schools are adjoined to athletics, it will continue to be an issue.

To me, what is needed is a decoupling of athletics from academics.  I’m not saying eliminate athletics completely, but eliminate the athletics revenue stream.  Stop making it a selling point of the schools, and have them stand academically on their own.

In all honesty, I’m surprised this hasn’t started already.  You’d think that someone would have started “Football Factories” or “Athletics Factories” for those who want to pursue professional sports, and have them focus solely on those activities.  In fact, baseball’s minor league system isn’t too far from this idea.

But until the majority of universities are willing to stand solely on their academic merits, we are going to continue to see scandals like we did with Penn State, because nobody’s going to willingly kill their golden goose.  The question is: How many need to suffer because of it?

Published inculturesports

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