NCAA Football Sanctions Aren’t Justified

It’s not just an institutional problem. It’s not just the fault of four heartless men. It’s not an isolated problem that is eliminated by simply removing those that were involved in the cover-up. It’s a cultural issue.

The Penn State football culture was allowed to become larger than life, larger than academia, and larger than the tens of thousands of students. This pervasive culture ran rampant and led to the decisions that let Jerry Sandusky’s crimes continue for years. If it wasn’t for the Penn State football culture —  a serious problem that needs to be stopped with severe action — Jerry Sandusky would have been behind bars in 2001 and the events that have unfolded since this past November would have been avoided.

That’s the argument that has been constantly repeated since Louis Freeh’s in-depth report was released last week. In principle, it sounds like common sense. If it wasn’t for the Penn State football program and the importance that it holds within Happy Valley, a different course of action would have been taken. And therefore, the only way to avoid a similar situation in the future is to dissolve that dangerous, menacing football culture by suspending the entire program for at least one season.

But, wait. Does that make any sense? Who ever said that the reason, the motive, or the rationale for the inaction of Spanier, Schultz, Curley, and Paterno was that they wanted to protect that so-called football culture? Nobody. Where in the Freeh report’s uncovered e-mails did those four men discuss the reasoning behind what Spanier referred to as being “humane” treatment of Jerry Sandusky? Nowhere. The NCAA can’t simply assume that it’s a football-related scandal because it seems as though it just might possibly be one.

When bad people do bad things, the justice system is in place to prosecute and punish those people. When corrupt football coaches and staff members promise a recruit a nice shiny red Porsche if he commits to their school, the NCAA is in place to sanction those people and the program that they work for.

I’m not sure when the very solid distinguishable line between legal issues and sports issues became blurred. Perhaps it was when anger towards a few unethical men was misguided towards an entire football program and university for something that happened when most of the athletes and students were in elementary school.

Why should tens of thousands of students and over 100 aspiring athletes be punished and deprived of one of the things that makes Penn State the great place that it is for what four men did when just about all of those students and athletes were at an age at which they probably had no idea what child sexual abuse even was? The NCAA exists to maintain fairness within college athletics, not to hand down punishments for criminal acts like “failure to report child abuse.”

Why is it that everybody keeps forgetting about the victims in all of this? How about the NCAA stops worrying about catering to the illogical and irrational thinking of an angry non-Penn State community and starts worrying about doing what’s best for the real victims?

If you remember, most of those that Sandusky preyed on grew up being around Penn State football. Some of them said that they didn’t report the abuse because they didn’t want to lose the happiness that standing on the sideline at Beaver Stadium brought them. Is it going to help the healing process for any of them — in addition to the healing process of the entire Penn State community — if football is taken away from their lives?

Let’s stop pretending that Penn State is so unique when it comes to athletics. It’s no different than the football culture at Alabama, the basketball culture at Syracuse, or the baseball culture at South Carolina. A university’s love for its football team didn’t enable Jerry Sandusky to continue his abuse after being tipped off for the second time that he was acting inappropriately with children in the Lasch building showers.

Four men did. One of those men is dead. Two of those men are on trial for perjury and failure to report child abuse, both facing jail time. And the fourth man, Graham Spanier, will most likely be in the same position of Gary Schultz and Tim Curley in the near future. The NCAA should let the justice system do its job and not set an unjustifiable and unsound precedent by handing down sanctions including the death penalty for actions that had absolutely nothing to do with football.

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About the Author

Zach Berger

Zach Berger is a reporter and Onward State's Managing Editor Emeritus. You can find him at the Phyrst more nights than not. If he had to pick a last meal, Zach would go for a medium-rare New York strip steak with a side of garlic mashed potatoes and a cold BrewDog Punk IPA. You can reach him via e-mail at [email protected] or on Twitter at @theZachBerger.

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