What Is the Role of the NCAA in the Penn State Scandal?

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What Is the Role of the NCAA in the Penn State Scandal?
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Should the proud Penn State football program be punished by the NCAA for the actions of Sandusky, Spanier, Curley and Paterno?

With the release of the internal Penn State investigation into the university's actions in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky conviction, many college football fans and writers have come to the conclusion that the NCAA must come down hard on the PSU program. Some have even gone so far as to say that PSU should join SMU as recipients of the NCAA-sanctioned "Death Penalty."

While I understand fully the emotions involved in this situation, I cannot agree with those who are so gung-ho to see the NCAA step in and wield its punishment powers here. The question that I have, and those who are advocating punishment should be asking, is this: Where does the NCAA get jurisdiction in a case like this?

There is nothing in this entire situation that is a violation of the NCAA bylaws or statutes. What Jerry Sandusky did was a criminal matter and has been handled in the criminal courts. What Spanier, Paterno, and Curley did may or may not have been criminal in nature and will be handled in the appropriate legal arenas.

But nothing that was done broke any of the NCAA's myriad rules that govern collegiate athletics in general and college football in particular.

For all the howls for NCAA intervention, people don't seem to understand just what they're asking for here. This is the same NCAA that proudly says they don't follow precedents in making their rulings; the same organization that has so many rules that even "law abiding" schools get caught breaking rules; the same group that will turn a blind eye to some schools and their violations (Oklahoma State in the Lawyer Tillman days) while crushing some schools for seemingly minor violations (Marist during the Rik Smits era).

These are the Keystone Kops that so many are clamoring to have drop the hammer on PSU?

Further, what authority would the NCAA use to invoke the "Death Penalty"? That penalty is only for schools that have been repeat major offenders, that have proven that they are NCAA scofflaws. SMU got shut down because they had been repeatedly slapped with major sanctions, and at the time of their penalty they were already on probation.

Rob Carr/Getty Images
Jerry Sandusky is the guilty party, not Penn state University. Why have so many forgotten that?

What violations has PSU been found guilty of? What violations have they even been accused of?

As bad, as evil as what Jerry Sandusky did, it is not a NCAA violation. As poorly as people may think Curley, Paterno and Spanier may have acted in response to the Sandusky situation as Mike McQueary presented it to them, that is not a violation of NCAA rules. It may be reprehensible, but the NCAA simply doesn't have any authority to punish the football program for this.

And why would football fans want to see the NCAA start ignoring its own regulations just to get someone we think "deserves" a punishment? If the NCAA is allowed here to punish PSU for not breaking rules but for poor behavior unrelated to the athletic department, where will it stop?

Will it be OK for them to fire a coach who gets caught driving drunk, or dismiss a player who gets into a fight off campus? When you divorce the organization from adherence to its own rules, you are allowing that organization to basically make the rules up as they go along. Is that really what we want from the NCAA?

No matter the emotional reaction to the Sandusky conviction and the release of the investigation results, fans should be able to separate their emotions from the rational. And there is nothing rational about urging the NCAA to level extreme sanctions on the Nittany Lions when they haven't even broken the rules.

And if you really want to see this in this case, don't cry when they come after your favorite school. Because if you think the NCAA would only wield this type of power in this one case, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I'll sell you cheap. And when they come after your school, remember that this is just what you asked for.

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