,Columns ,Opinion

Penn State decimated by the NCAA


The core principle of any organization with the power to impose sanctions must be to use that power to penalize the guilty and protect the innocent. You would think that's obvious, but the recent actions of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and Penn State officials indicate otherwise.

An analogy to the current NCAA approach can be found in ancient Roman military tactics. When mutinous or cowardly soldiers were clearly present but could not be specifically identified, the general would assemble his troops in groups of 10. By drawing lots, each group would randomly pick one of its members for death by stoning.

This is the root of the word "decimation." Although the real cowards were rarely punished this way, the thought was that the entire army would learn a lesson and the cowards would change their ways. Sounds barbaric and illogical, doesn't it?

Now, let's go back, just a few years, to the USC Trojans. The 2004 team was denied the national championship it had already won due to the finding that its star running back, Reggie Bush, had received "improper benefits." Additionally, USC's record, including the final two games of the season (the last being the 2005 Rose Bowl), was "vacated," and its scholarship allotment was reduced.

This sounds reasonable until you look behind the headlines: The guilty party, Reggie Bush, had already won the Heisman Trophy and signed a multimillion-dollar contract with the New Orleans Saints; the head coach, Pete Carroll, had already signed a huge contract to coach the NFL Seattle Seahawks, all BEFORE the sanctions took place. Who was left to absorb the bite of the sanctions? The remaining innocent athletes, the innocent student body, the school itself.

The guilty were not penalized by this action, in fact they were quite well-off — but the innocent part of the USC program was decimated.

On to Penn State. This is a much more severe example of the out-of-control decimation power of the NCAA.

First, let me be clear — it's hard to imagine a penalty severe enough to balance the evil that took place. In fact, in the words of Mark Emmert, NCAA president, "No price the NCAA can levy will repair the grievous damage inflicted by Jerry Sandusky." But the guilty in this case are either in jail, on their way to jail or deceased. So the NCAA looked around for someone, anyone to punish.

The rallying cry must have been, "Let's get the innocent to show everyone how effective we are." And get them, they did: a $60 million fine, a four-year postseason ban, scholarship reductions, a vacating of all wins going back to 1998, and more.

All of this decimation falls on the innocents who remain at Penn State and those athletes who contributed to the impressive accomplishments of the football program through the years.

How do they justify this injustice? Well, they feel Penn State and its student body are just too proud of their football team. So, they reasoned, they're all guilty of allowing an environment in which this kind of crime can be overlooked.

How insulting! The implication is that the remaining athletes, the student body, the professors and staff, etc., would have condoned this despicable behavior just to win football games.

What about the recent cheating scandal at Harvard? Should there be sanctions there because that university places too much emphasis on academic performance? Are they all guilty of creating an environment that encourages cheating? That's absurd, and for the same reasons.

And what was Penn State's reaction? Less than an hour after the NCAA's verdict, Penn State officials announced that they would accept the sanctions in total. There was no pushback, no negotiations — just total capitulation. Outrageous!

All the stakeholders in Penn State's environment are left to carry the burden — and that includes Pennsylvania taxpayers. When looking at all the facts, there is one inescapable conclusion: The individuals on both sides of this "punish the innocent" policy were not up to the task. The concept of decimation should have been discarded with all other examples of medieval justice.

If these organizations cannot find a more civilized way to help ensure that disasters like Jerry Sandusky will not be repeated, the executives involved, including the Penn State board, should be replaced by people who can. The current group is not acting in the best interest of the university, the students, the community or the taxpayers.

Punishing the innocent is not moral, it's not ethical and it's not very smart.

Dan Duda is the president of DecisionTrack in Lititz.