Early Monday morning, NCAA president Mark Emmert will take to a podium and announce “unprecedented” NCAA sanctions against Penn State University for their involvement in the heinous cover-up on behalf of Jerry Sandusky. This will likely include lengthy probation, bowl bans, scholarship reductions, and staggering fines as the NCAA looks to break up the mafia-style culture that allowed such terrible acts to be committed under the eye of university leadership without someone stepping forward to do the right thing. The swift action by Emmert and college football’s governing body will go a long way to raising the accountability of college football programs and the faculty in charge of policing them, or at least that’s what the NCAA hopes. However, is the NCAA overstepping their authority by punishing Penn State?
By asking this question, by no means am I saying that Penn State should go unpunished. What happened on that campus is a terrible tragedy and justice has to be found. However, is the NCAA the proper governing body to be administering that justice? The Department of Justice is busy at work investigating those involved in this cover-up, and you can be sure that more charges will be filed as the men responsible for sweeping abuse against children under the rug for twenty years get what’s coming their way.
On top of that, the Department of Education will likely be looking extremely close at this situation, determining if perhaps the school is in violation of Title IX. That federal law, in addition to its more famous articles ensuring women equal opportunities in athletics, states that no person should be subject to sexual harassment by a member of a school or someone representing the school, and if the school administration is aware of the harassment and does nothing, then they are liable for the harassment as well. If Penn State is found to have violated Title IX, then they would be subject to the loss of their federal funding, which is the lifeblood of any state school.
The NCAA will jump in and act first, however, under the purposefully vague “lack of institutional control,” which gets tossed around for any number of sins. But does it apply here? Certainly, the institution failed to control a monster running amok in their halls, but is that what the spirit of the law is going for?
The NCAA acts as the governing body of college athletics. In that sense, anything that happens regarding the Penn State football program is their territory. However, the abuse of children falls so far above the realm of college athletics, that it’s like a Home Owner’s Association jumping in to investigate a triple homicide in your back yard. Technically, it falls on their turf, but it’s above their pay grade or jurisdiction. This crime had little impact on the team that took the field every Saturday, which the NCAA concerns itself with. This crime destroyed the lives of countless boys by a monster, which is a category of criminal best left to a higher court.
But then again, this crime is so terrible, perhaps it permeates everything it comes close to. While the deed itself is above the NCAA’s jurisdiction, the fallout from it and the ensuing coverup trickled down and infected the school, the athletic department, and most noticeably the football program. That infection needs to be purged, and the people responsible for purging a sick football program would most certainly be the NCAA. On top of that, there are so many people who are calling for justice in this case, a failure to punish Penn State would be a public relations nightmare. The details of this case are so terrible and twisted, everyone will make a case to punish Penn State, and they’ll all have a justification to.
While the legal qualifications of the NCAA to levy punishment against Penn State for the terrible crimes of Jerry Sandusky and the horrific cover-up that followed are a bit murky, there really isn’t any choice in the matter. Every governing body will be out for their pound of flesh to exact some kind of justice in this case. The DOJ will continue to convict, the DOE will look to take away funding, and the Big Ten has even been rumored to be considering kicking the school out of the conference altogether. There may not be clear justification or jurisdiction for the NCAA to step in, but some crimes are just too terrible not to go punished by everyone.
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