Reminder: The NCAA Is Still Terrible
The NCAA sanctions met their abrupt and (almost) total end today, in what is sure to be a day that goes down in Penn State history as one of its best. It’s a day for celebration for sure — a celebration of a partially righted wrong, like a wrongfully convicted prisoner going free.
But like a wrongfully convicted prisoner, the situation is still rife with injustice. It’s hard not to see the botched public relations plan the NCAA concocted: Extort Penn State to hand down draconian punishments, pay an integrity monitor to write some reports, and take credit for “fixing” Penn State’s culture.
Two years later, it’s safe to say that the NCAA’s plan has completely backfired.
For people who believe Penn State placed football “ahead of educating, nurturing, and protecting young people,” this is an unacceptable move by the NCAA. What decent organization would show mercy for an institution that did something like that? If the NCAA actually believed that Penn State covered up child rape, how could they be lenient on something so heinous? Penn State President Emeritus Rodney Erickson signed a document that said Penn State “presents an unprecedented failure of institutional integrity leading to a culture in which a football program was held in higher esteem than the values of the institution, the values of the NCAA, the values of higher education, and, most disturbingly, the values of human decency.” For the people that believe that is true, the sanction reductions just make the NCAA look worse.
If you’re like me, and believe that the statement President Erickson signed is grievously wrong, then you certainly aren’t feeling any love for the NCAA. To use the previous analogy, it would be like thanking the corrupt judge that threw you in prison for a crime you didn’t commit. Today is a day of celebration — not that the NCAA showed us mercy, but that there is finally some small justice during a three-year history at Penn State where justice has sorely lacked.
Penn State’s leadership, of course, is not taking the position that a wrong has been righted, but is using the situation to grandstand the Board of Trustees’ actions over the last three years.
“This report is a welcome acknowledgement of the University’s efforts,” said Board of Trustees Chair Keith Masser in a statement this afternoon. “Such a massive undertaking has made Penn State a national model in an array of university functions – including compliance, safety and security. I commend President Barron and his predecessor, Rodney Erickson, for their tremendous leadership throughout this process. The Board of Trustees is committed to the continued monitoring and improvement of university policies, procedures and actions.”
Penn State leadership recites ad nauseam the fact that it has implemented or is in the process of implementing all but two Freeh report recommendations. Many of these recommendations are undeniably good — be it rigorous Clery Act compliance or more sensible reporting structures. But the heart of the matter remains the same — Penn State was not any less compliant or ethical than most universities pre-scandal. In fact, with no actual major NCAA infractions (a fact which still remains true), Penn State was (is) one of the most ethical universities with one of the most compliant athletic departments in the country (which makes the Freeh report necessity of an Athletic Integrity monitor seem trivial). As much as they’d like to take credit for fixing Penn State’s culture, don’t let our leaders on the Board or in Old Main tell you otherwise.
Sen. Mitchell admitted as much in his report on the very first page: “Where we have identified concerns [with Penn State], they have been of the type that occurs within every large educational institution, they have not been chronic, and they have been quickly addressed.”
My cynicism should not sully the fact that today is a day for solidarity and celebration. Our student athletes and our university community deserve today — we all deserved today. It marks a new era in many ways. Aside from the Board of Trustees, we have new leadership in most key university positions and the future is looking exceedingly bright. Next year at this time, we could be talking about returned wins and fine money, with a top-1o recruiting class after a bowl-winning season.
But I’m not into Stockholm Syndrome, so the return of stolen property is a tough sell for me. The NCAA is on its deathbed, and I’m happy to enjoy the show.