Was The NCAA Too Harsh?

Hardly. Penn State should just stop playing football.

Maybe that statue wasn't such a good idea.

You’d think that no penalty would be too harsh for the Penn State football program. Yet we’re seeing exactly that reaction from some in Big Media.

My normal cynical interpretation would be that Big Media never likes anything that threatens to undermine the institutions it reports on. God forbid, we all lose interest in college football altogether. Thus, we have things like the steroid scandal in baseball that went largely unreported until the FBI and Congress got involved and made it almost impossible to ignore. It’s natural enough: these guys make a living reporting on sports. They’re out of job if we get too disgusted and stop caring about it.

But I have a hard time believing that’s the issue here. I mean, this isn’t really about sports. This is about child abuse and the culture that allowed it to happen. To the extent it is about sports, it’s about understanding how sports makes that culture possible. Not just at Penn State, but anywhere. It’s about making sure this kind of thing isn’t happening anywhere else. And I’d like to think that even the most cynical sports journalists understand the stakes here.

So how can anyone be concerned that the penalties here are too harsh?

The arguments here range from “we shouldn’t be penalizing the players” to “the NCAA is setting the wrong precedent” and they’re all beside the point. The priority here needs to be to make sure we address the root causes that made this tragedy possible. Every other priority is a distant second. And the NCAA isn’t the Supreme Court or something: they can act decisively and even inconsistently if they want to, in order to address what amounts to a threat to very existence of college sports.

If anything, they didn’t go far enough. Penn State should just stop playing football for about a decade, at least. Just stop. Take a step back. Get focused again on what’s important. How does playing football next season even rate on the list of priorities here? How can anyone be sure that the forces that led to this tragedy have really been eradicated? Remember, this isn’t just one person. This was a whole group of people. And this isn’t selling memorabilia to a tattoo parlor or smoking some weed or something. This was rape, child abuse, and people turning a blind eye to it. In that light, I don’t really care if Penn State plays football ever again.

“What about the players?” Exactly my point. Honor their scholarships. Let them move on if they want. Believe it or not, there are worse tragedies in the world than Penn State not playing football for awhile.

As it is, I can’t help but wonder if things like this are going on at college campuses all over the country. If not rape, perhaps other things. Penn State is not the only campus where football is bigger than life.

In that spirit, the NCAA had to be harsh. We can’t have Penn State rocking the “white-out” for the Big Game any time soon. I mean, what if they were to win a national championship a few years from now? Talk about “sending the wrong message.” The NCAA penalties all but guarantee that won’t happen. And what they ought to have done is made sure of it.