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mark emmert

July 23, 2012

NCAA Penn State Sanctions: Probably Right Outcome, DEFINITELY Wrong Process

At this point, anyone who is rational understands that Penn State leadership conspired to cover up Jerry Sandusky’s heinous crimes and that both the football program and broader institution deserve weighty sanctions for their egregious inhumanity. Today, NCAA President Mark Emmert acted with “unprecedented” authority and delivered just that: Penn State received a 4-year bowl ban and a $60 million fine, facing the reduction of 10 scholarships a year while current recruits and players are free to transfer to other schools without the standard 1-year wait. Penn State’s wins from 1998-2011 are vacated. (While the vacating of wins is normally a hollow gesture–the NCAA, unlike the Men in Black, can not erase our memory–this removes Joe Paterno’s all-time wins record and takes him all the way out of the top 10.)

Though stiff, these penalties are warranted. In fact, that Penn State agreed in advance not to appeal implies that it worked in concert with the NCAA to self-impose them. While many people are saying that this is worse than the “death penalty,” it’s really not. It will keep Penn State out of legitimate national championship contention for six or seven years but with the fertile Pennsylvania recruiting base and the right people in charge the program could return to prominence within a decade. $60 million sounds like an outrageous amount of money but Penn State has a $1.83 billion endowment. (The impending civil suits, though, will make more than a 3% dent in that lofty figure.) So Penn State is getting stiffly–but not irrevocably–punished from all this.

What’s wrong with that?

The process.

In taking unprecedented measures to swiftly and unilaterally impose sanctions on Penn State, the NCAA establishes the precedence for future swift and unilateral action. There are few institutions in America less deserving of the public trust to act in this manner. As we’ve seen time and again, the NCAA is a cartel whose primary purpose is to maximize personal wealth and status for its stakeholders–coaches, athletics directors, and bowl presidents to name a few. It only acts in the best interest of its student athletes and/or the overall public if its actions happen to also be in the best interest of these shareholders.

There are hundreds to choose from but here are a few examples of why it might not be best for the NCAA to act with sweeping authority going forward:

Via NYtimes: Its recent absurd sanctions on Cal Tech, where certain sports were given a one-year postseason ban and the school was put on three years’ probation:

The N.C.A.A. determined that a total of 30 Caltech athletes on 12 teams practiced or played in games while academically ineligible from the 2007-08 to 2010-11 academic years. But most of the infractions, which were discovered and reported by Athletic Director Betsy Mitchell in 2011, were the result of Caltech’s unusual class registration system.

During the first three weeks of each trimester, students at Caltech, the academically rigorous college in Pasadena, take part in a process known as shopping, in which they are allowed to essentially sample classes before being required to register for them. Rod Kiewiet, Caltech’s dean of undergraduate students, said many students stayed in these classes for the entire term, but they, like so many college students, sometimes procrastinated.

“A very large number of them have already picked out their classes, and they’re going to the classes,” Kiewiet said. “They just don’t get registered until the deadline.”

If students are not officially registered for enough classes during this three-week period, they can be considered part-time students, and part-time students are ineligible to compete in N.C.A.A. events.

Via SI: The tale of Fiesta Bowl CEO John Junker, who expensed $1,241 at a strip club amongst other ridiculous expenditures:

The Fiesta Bowl had covered $13,086 in expenses connected with one employee’s wedding in Kansas City. Junker bestowed on others such gifts as iPads, gift cards and, most bizarre, bullion. He purchased (and billed to the bowl) some $22,000 worth of gold and silver coins.

This is not a good day for the BCS. The Sugar and Orange Bowls have also recently come under withering criticism for the excessive compensation of executives and extravagant expenditures. Sugar Bowl executive director Paul Hoolahan’s 2009 income of $645,386 was just 40K or so shy of Junker’s. Last June, according to a complaint filed by a committee called Playoff PAC, the Orange Bowl treated its executives and college athletic directors to “Summer Splash,” a four-day Royal Caribbean cruise featuring several stops in the Bahamas … but no business meetings. (Spokespeople for each of the bowls deny any impropriety.)

Via The Nation: The persecution of Jamar Samuels, who had to miss his final Kansas State basketball game as a player for allegedly accepting $200 from his former AAU coach so he could buy groceries for his mother:

2. Jamar Samuels’s suspension led to the following headline that simply says it all: “Jamar Samuels Ruled Ineligible For Trying To Feed His Family.” His former coach, Curtis Malone, admitted after the suspension that he had given him $200 so Samuels could buy groceries for his mother. “Yeah, I did,” he said. “It’s the same way when he played [for me] on road trips. When he didn’t have money to eat, he ate.” He later told, that he didn’t know that he was doing anything wrong. “If I knew it and wanted to hide it, I would have done it differently. The kid’s family doesn’t have anything and he called me for money to eat.” Neither Malone nor Samuels thought they were doing anything wrong. Malone had known Samuels’s mother for years and they live in a situation where poverty literally means not knowing how you will find food for the week.

NCAA President Mark Emmert, meanwhile, was paid at a rate of almost $1.6 million per year in 2010.

Perhaps the biggest lesson from the Penn State fallout is the proclivity for those with absolute power to abuse it and act with impunity and without accountability. Joe Paterno was supposed to be a benign dictator. Does anyone have such delusions about the NCAA?

While the Freeh Report’s facts and conclusions have not been disputed by any credible sources (Graham Spanier and the Paterno family of course do not qualify as such), it was a private, for-profit investigation that ultimately absolved its sponsor, the Penn State Board of Trustees, of wrongdoing except for its lack of appropriate oversight. Accepting it as the gospel is not adequate due process. Why didn’t the NCAA conduct its own independent investigation after news broke in November instead of waiting for the results of one commissioned by Penn State? Are we sure that no Penn State trustees and nobody working for the NCAA had even an inkling about Jerry Sandusky, the architect of the great ‘Linebacker U’ defenses who abruptly retired at 55 and somehow never coached again anywhere else?

As a University of Wisconsin alum, I would not want the fate of the Badgers to rest unequivocally in Mark Emmert’s hands. Obviously, Penn State presented an extremely unique circumstance and something had to be done quickly to allow innocent players the right to transfer and meld with their new teammates, coaches, and university. But the process should have been more inclusive and transparent because now that the NCAA has established this level of power, it will be that much harder to wrest it away when (not if) it’s wielded unjustly.


Photo Credit: USA Today

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