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Stop Comparing PSU to SMU

Since the release of Former FBI director Louis Freeh’s report last Thursday, one of the most discussed phrases has been “death penalty.” If anything has been more disappointing than the extent to which this topic has been exhausted, it is the way it has been discussed with national columnists and broadcasters attempting to play moral police and make up nonexistent rules that are convenient for their arguments.

Yesterday morning, I hit my boiling point. I am sure many of you can relate. While listening to a Philadelphia sports radio station, 94.1 WIP, morning host Angelo Cataldi mentioned that students were organizing a “vigil” to protect Joe Paterno’s statue. Referring to three crazy college kids camping out to “protect” a statue as a vigil disrespects what a real vigil is, one with more than 10,000 students and alumni holding candles in the dark to show support for victims of child sexual abuse. To be fair, they certainly were not the only outlet to refer to this act that began Tuesday night as a vigil, but after listening to co-host Al Morganti say on Wednesday that Penn State needed to shut down its football program without backing up the argument, I had heard enough.

I called in with the intent to get some points across. We talked for a few minutes. I tried to clear up what was really going on in terms of the aforementioned vigil, and they asked a few questions

My intention was to bring up several other aspects, but I knew I was short on time. I went with what I thought was my best point and I asked if they could cite an NCAA bylaw that would support the football program getting the death penalty. Morganti brought up Southern Methodist University from the late 1980s talking about lack of control across the athletic department. He did not mention any sort of bylaw but rather an example of a much different situation. From there, I was cut off as they were nearing a commercial break.

Below is how I would have responded if I was afforded more time.

Let’s begin by comparing the Penn State scandal to the one time the death penalty has been enforced in college football. The situation at SMU involved several actual NCAA violations over a long time span between 1970 and 1986. Even after being put on probation multiple times, SMU continued to violate rules that gave them a competitive advantage. The most serious of these violations was a slush fund and paying recruits large sums of money to attend the school. It was proven that administrators knew this was taking place for years and did nothing to stop it.

At Penn State, there were no recruiting violations nor slush funds of any sort. In fact, the program had never been hit with a major NCAA violation. In the spring of 1998, Graham Spanier banned a sports agent from campus who took then star running back Curtis Enis to shopping malls. One could argue that Spanier’s priorities were messed up, and no one is saying that what happened at Penn State isn’t morally worse than what happened at SMU. It’s horrifying, but it’s not the same. Not even close.

SMU was given the death penalty as the program was found to be completely out of control.  The death penalty statute, NCAA bylaw, states: “The Committee on Infractions finds that a major violation has occurred within five years of the starting date of a major penalty. For this provision to apply, at least one major violation must have occurred within five years after the starting date of the penalties in the previous case.”

Where are these other penalties in the case of Penn State? While one could argue that a football culture led to this problem, these are not strictly football violations. They are legal violations, and I think everyone can agree that legitimate legal bodies are doing a thorough, decent job so far.

Florida-based attorney Michael Buckner told The Patriot-News on Wednesday that he sees no way NCAA president Mark Emmert could get around that bylaw.

“The bylaw hasn’t changed in terms of the death penalty. You still need to have some sort of [previous] NCAA rules violation and be a repeat offender.”

With Penn State, this was not a lack of institutional control, but rather too much control where one man became too powerful. Neither Bill O’Brien nor any coach who follows him will ever have the power that Paterno had at Penn State. That is more than a safe assumption.

Since I cannot come up with a better example, allow me to steal an analogy from a Sports Illustrated column by Andy Staples.

“There is a reason the IRS doesn’t punish murderers who pay their taxes.” 

The NCAA rulebook is not set up to handle something like this, and frankly, it doesn’t need to be. The court system has it covered by punishing men who actually committed crimes and not a new football regime and several student athletes who were in elementary school when this occurred.

You’re better and smarter than what you said, Al Morganti. You and I both know that. So should be the rest of you. Start citing facts and referencing NCAA bylaws. Actually back up your claims and stop trying to play moral police because it’s an ugly situation that needs to be fixed. If you really want to dig a little deeper, consider that some of Sandusky’s victims remain Penn State Football fans and were at Beaver Stadium as recent as last fall. Learn about PSU RAINN, the Blue-Out, and remember that the University donated $1.5 million of bowl revenue to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. Take away football, and you take away a great resource to raise funds and awareness.

At the very least, do not start a death penalty argument comparing the situation to SMU in 1987. You’ve already lost the debate within the first five seconds.

Maybe it’s somewhat symbolic that a cut to commercial led to a dropped call.

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About the Author

Drew Balis

Drew is a senior marketing major. This fall, he will be covering Penn State Football for Onward State. He is a huge Philadelphia sports fan and loves THON and Domonic Brown.

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