First off, someone is going to want to twist what I am about to write, in order to make it sound that I am somehow defending what went on at Penn State, so I have to make this clear right up front: The events at Penn State were horrendous. Jerry Sandusky was a monster, and the decision by Coach Paterno and others to try to shield him is inexcusable. There is a mountain of shame and blame to be shared here, and I'm perfectly fine with the university deciding to tear down the Paterno statue.
With that disclaimer out of the way, I still find myself wondering what the NCAA has to do with any of this.
Imagine that you're a basketball player. Your game is over and you're out in the parking lot afterwards, stowing your gear in your car and getting ready to leave. Suddenly the person who had just refereed your game comes over and says, "Looks like you've got a cracked windshield. I'm going to have to write you a ticket."
You would, of course, tell the guy to get lost. It's none of his business. His authority exists on the court, not in the rest of your life.
That's the situation we have now, as the NCAA has fined Penn St. $60 million, reduced the number of scholarships available and banned the football team from any post-season appearances for four years. Always self-important and sanctimonious, the NCAA said Penn State's actions go "against our values."
Well, yes, they went against pretty much everyone's values. How does that involve the NCAA?
Established in 1906 - partly in response to high levels of brutality in college football - the NCAA is designed to ensure fair competition among collegiate athletic programs. It was formed to establish uniform rules of competition and safety in athletics. Later, it began to conduct national championships, and its role is to make certain athletic programs abide by the rules. The NCAA investigates things like illegal recruiting tactics, cash payoffs to players, academic cheating by student-athletes and other things athletic departments might do to give themselves an unfair advantage on the playing field.
But the horrific events at Penn State had nothing to do with what happened on the field. The fact that a member of the football staff was a serial child molester didn't help the football team in any way.
If Penn State had been committing academic fraud to keep players eligible, it's the NCAA's business. Likewise if Penn State was providing no-show jobs to athletes, or if players' parents were getting payments, then the NCAA needs to step in. If Penn State had been cheating in some brazen fashion, like hiding a microphone in the opponent's locker room or bribing game officials, then it's the NCAA's business. They are there to ensure fair competition and to make certain that no school has an unfair competitive advantage.
I don't see how the sickness of Jerry Sandusky or those who covered up for him are within the purview of the NCAA.
There's a parallel of sorts in the NCAA's long-running feud with the University of North Dakota over the Fighting Sioux nickname. There is no competitive advantage in UND calling itself the Fighting Sioux, so why does the NCAA care? As a Minnesota alum, of course, I'm conditioned to dislike UND, but I would have gained some respect for them if they had just told the NCAA, "Screw off. What we call ourselves is none of your business."
Likewise, I think Penn State should have said, "The people who committed these horrible acts are being dealt with by the criminal justice system. We have fired others who enabled or covered up the behavior. We are accountable to the NCAA for complying with the rules of competition, but you have no right to punish our current students for things that happened years before they arrived on campus. Back off."
The NCAA isn't a court of law and it isn't a church. It isn't designed to be a political correctness police force. It's a referee, and someone needs to remind it of that.