Let’s get this out of the way – the NCAA is not a model governing body. This is the organization that gave the death penalty to SMU for doing things virtually every major college program in America was doing at the time. These are the folks that ruled Cam Newton eligible, and Jeremy Bloom ineligible. Every few years the NCAA was will drop the hammer on someone with the idea that things will change, and nothing changes, and we’re somehow surprised when nothing changes.
So it would be easy for me to agree with the likes of Spencer Hall when he suggests that Mark Emmert and the powers that be in the NCAA laid the hammer down on Penn State for show, that the NCAA is simply a corrupt organization hammering another corrupt organization for public relations purposes.
But I can’t.
Now don’t get me wrong – it wasn’t as if the NCAA was taking some kind of brave stance in suggesting that the university be punished for the misdeeds of their administration. They absolutely had political cover to do exactly what they did, and honestly, few would’ve blinked an eye if the penalties had been more severe.
But what if Mark Emmert had done nothing? What if he had said that this matter fell outside its charter and refused to take action against Penn State, and the program was allowed to conduct business as usual? I could not imagine the backlash that decision would’ve engendered, and rightfully so.
Because for all of the hideous faults that the NCAA has, it is the major governing body for college athletics in this country. What Jerry Sandusky did, and what Penn State turned a blind eye too, impugns the reputation of all big-time athletic programs. If you want to argue that the NCAA lacks moral authority in these situations for all the reasons I pointed out in the opening paragraph, go ahead.
In this case, when the actions (or inaction) of Penn State was so egregious, the NCAA not only has the right to sanction them, they had the moral obligation to do so. This isn’t about the eligibility of athletes or spurious methods of measuring academic achievement. This about horrific crimes conducted on a college campus in plain sight, and if the NCAA isn’t allowed to take actions in this case, then what can it do?
You can’t have it both ways. You can’t complain about the bureaucracy and toothlessness of the NCAA and then be angry when they take a strong position on a moral issue – even if you question their motives.
I do have a level of sympathy for those who are in charge of cleaning up the mess at Penn State, and those athletes who did nothing wrong and are now left in the same messy void that SMU players were left in a quarter-century ago. But that’s life, unfortunately – sometimes you pay for the sins of those who came before you.
It isn’t fair, but the NCAA would’ve done a far graver disservice by doing nothing.