Are the penalties against Penn State fair in the Jerry Sandusky case?Recently, Jerry Sandusky, former assistant coach of the Pennsylvania State University football team, was convicted of 45 counts...

Are the penalties against Penn State fair in the Jerry Sandusky case?

Recently, Jerry Sandusky, former assistant coach of the Pennsylvania State University football team, was convicted of 45 counts of child abuse, crimes that spanned ten years. Sandusky committed the abuses while running his non-profit organization called “The Second Mile,” which allegedly helped disadvantaged children. Sandusky will likely serve the rest of his life in prison. Penn State was fined $60 million dollars and was banned from post-season play. Are these penalties against Penn State fair? 

Expert Answers
carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The NCAA sanctions imposed on Penn State's football program were not as harsh as they might have been.  More importantly though, should there have been sanctions at all?  There are two aspects of this issue to examine:  the scope of NCAA's power and Penn State's athletic infractions.

 First, what is the purpose of the NCAA's intervention in a specific university's affairs?  This is their mission statement: 

Our purpose is to govern competition in a fair, safe, equitable and sportsmanlike manner, and to integrate intercollegiate athletics into higher education so that the education experience of the student athlete is paramount.

From this statement, the NCAA felt justified in giving "Penn State unprecedented sanctions that include a $60 million fine; a four-year postseason ban for the football program; and substantial scholarship reductions." Mark Emmert, President of the organization, stated that their purpose was to make sure that football never supersedes the more important purpose of establishing an atmosphere conducive to education.  Probably in an effort to move beyond this scandal, Penn State accepted the ruling without question.

How did the NCAA arrive at their reasoning for these sanctions?  First, they did not do their own investigation.  Instead, they based the penalties on a report from a group hired by the school to conduct an internal investigation. 

The report concluded that a handful of top administrators including late coach Joe Paterno, were part of a cover-up that allowed former football assistant coach Jerry Sandusky to sexually abuse young boys on Penn State's campus.

Who was culpable in this scandal?  Despite Coach Paterno's rather lackadaisical handling of the incident, he did follow the procedure outlined for him.  After coaching for 62 years at Penn state and providing stellar leadership, Paterno was certainly punished for his part in the incident:  disgrace, firing, and humiliation. President Spanier, one of the longest serving presidents in the nation, was removed from office.  Tim Curley, athletic director, and Gary Schultz, vice president of finances, were charged with perjury and failing to report to authorities what they knew of the allegations.  Of course, Gerald Sandusky will spend a long time in prison.  Who else was involved?  Were the football players, coaches, or alumni guilty as well? The answer is "No."

What other steps did the NCAA follow?  Normally a meeting is held to discuss the schools athletic infractions.  This did not happen.  Furthermore, no specific violations of the NCAA regulations appear to have been broken. The process for determining sanctions usually takes a year or more.  The school is offered the chance to answer allegations before the decision is announced.  None of this happened in this case.  According to a former NCAA Committee member, "Using immoral or criminal behavior as a means to justify sanctions would constitute new territory for the NCAA."

If the purpose of the NCAA is keep a level playing field among schools and to make sure that proper methods are used in providing scholarships, were  these the  issues in this case?  Again, the answer would be "No." This is a case that would not normally go through NCAA's radar or process. It appears that the NCAA is extending its power.  This has nothing to do with athletic infractions; however, the Committee has taken the course of punishing adults who acted improperly, thus penalizing a program which had done nothing wrong.

Was this a case of institutional integrity?  Possibly, it was.  However, those in the institution  who committed the infractions have been punished.  Why punish the present and future athletes and alumni who had nothing to do with this situation? The NCAA overstepped its boundaries.

Kristen Lentz eNotes educator| Certified Educator

To be honest, I don't think the penalties were strict enough.  There was a discussion of a four year "death penalty" that would have suspended Penn State's football program for four years.  SMU is the only previous recipient of the death penalty, coming on the heels of rampant corruption in their athletic program.  I personally would have preferred that penalty.  A loss of scholarships and money doesn't seem to justify the loss of innocence of boys that could have been prevented. 

Some might say it isn't fair to punish the current members of the football team, but it certainly wasn't fair for young boys to continue to be preyed upon to protect the image of a football program.  Under the four year ban every player would have had the ability to immediately transfer to another university and be eligible to play.  I realize that it would hurt the local economy, but Penn State's football program will emerge from this "punishment" relatively unscathed while the lives of innocent youths were changed forever because powerful men didn't have the courage act responsibly.

wannam eNotes educator| Certified Educator

While it isn't fair to punish the players and those who had nothing to do with the crime, it is fair to punish the program itself.  The investigators believed that top officials in the school were aware of the abuse and did not take steps to stop it.  They seemed to have received various reports and allegations but did not terminate Sandusky's employment or prevent his interaction with children.  The school failed to notify the authorities of the complaints and allegations as well.  I certainly think it is fair that the school and the officials involved in the scandal receive some form of punishment.  I feel sorry for the players and those attending the school that had no part in the incidents at all.  I can certainly understand the arguments that the punishment was too harsh, but I can also understand that the NCAA is trying to set an example that this type of behavior and unethical situation will not be tolerated.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In a sense they are fair and in a sense they are not.  

People can say (as the previous post does) that those who did not commit the crimes are being punished.  This is not fair.  However, it is impossible to punish only those who commit crimes.  We always give punishments that hurt the innocent.  If I commit a crime and go to jail, my children are punished even though they have done nothing wrong.  The same applies to current Penn State players.  The NCAA had to do something about it.  If that ended up hurting current players, so be it.  We should worry more about the victims of Sandusky's crimes than about inconveniences to the Penn State program.

bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I believe they are fair. As athletic director and the final say in sports matters at Penn State, the late Joe Paterno was told about the possible improprieties by Sandusky but decided to ignore them since the two were old friends. Paterno had long been treated with kid gloves by the NCAA, and his reputation as an honest, fatherly, saintly figure were obviously greatly exaggerated. I believe Paterno thought he was bigger than the NCAA, and that the rules that the organization's other schools followed did not apply to him. Sandusky's years of perversion should not be taken lightly--these charges are far worse than normal recruiting violations--and hopefully Penn State's tough penalty will make others stop and think before they shower with little boys or cover up their friends' indiscretions.

mizzwillie eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I believe that Penn State's punishment was to serve as a warning to other programs that this kind of behavior would not be tolerated.   I think more attention should be paid to Sandusky's victims and not just the football program.  This university has long held that the football program was a sacred program for all the money it produced and that Joe Paterno was the positive model running that program.  The players could change to other university programs if they so chose.  The punishment was fair and I feel no sympathy for anyone involved in the coverup at Penn State.  Too many children suffered.

shake99 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Penn State football had even more penalties than you mentioned. These kinds of NCAA penalties have always been controversial, because they punish people who had nothing to do with the crime or violation.

I don't think there should be penalties which primarily affect those who are not guilty. Penn State should not lose scholarships. As for post-season play, they should be eligible to play but not reap a financial benefit about a certain "break-even" amount.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The more significant, and interesting, penalties came from the sports organization.  The group that monitors college football, the NCAA, actually took severe sanctions against the organization.  I wonder about this.  It was terrible what happened, but does that really affect the sports wins?