Penn State Scandal: How the NCAA Reclaimed the Spirit of College Sports

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Penn State Scandal: How the NCAA Reclaimed the Spirit of College Sports

On Monday, the NCAA succeeded where Joe Paterno, Mike McQueary, Dottie Sandusky, Graham Spanier and Tim Curley failed miserably at Penn State. 

Finally, somebody had the guts to stop passing the buck and take a meaningful moral stance on Jerry Sandusky’s atrocities and Penn State’s equally indefensible and systematic cover-up. 

Perhaps just as importantly, though, the "unprecedented" sanctions the NCAA leveled on Penn State served to put athletics in their place. 

The penalties represent the NCAA redefining the significance and role of college athletics in a university environment. President Mark Emmert and the executive committee reminded people that the true aim of intercollegiate athletics is not winning or financial gain, but to improve the lives of those who participate and the collegiate community as a whole.

Don’t get me wrong—I think athletics are a great part of our culture. Competition is an integral part of society. Sports are a great, consequence-free platform for us to learn how to compete in an honorable way, learn the importance of persistence and form uncommon bonds of friendship.

Athletics provide proving grounds for young people and have the power to give the gift of confidence to those who aren’t so naturally blessed. Later in life, sports have the power to lighten our hearts, return us to childhood and "remind us of all that once was good, and that could be again."

Athletics are a huge part of who we are—but, at least at the collegiate level, they are intended to supplement our experiences, not rule them.

Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Sports are profoundly great, but somewhere along the way, Paterno and the Penn State leadership forgot why. They let a self-important, win-at-all-costs athletic culture compromise their most basic values, repeatedly. 

The NCAA had a chance to cop out of this one, declare the case "outside its jurisdiction" and let the courts take responsibility for punishing the men directly responsible for these atrocities, but it didn’t. 

Despite the majority of media attention focused on the plight of the cover-up conspirators and a now infamous statue, the NCAA focused on "the tragic damage that has been done to the victims and their families" when determining the penalties it was to impose on Penn State.

The NCAA did not let the legend of JoePa, significant public outcry or its normally tedious bureaucratic processes affect its judgment. The NCAA saw a wrong and immediately went about trying to do what it could to right it.

To me, the most important detail of these penalties is that every penny of the $60 million fine will go directly into an endowment for programs preventing child sexual abuse and/or assisting the victims of child sexual abuse.

There can never be justice for Sandusky's victims, but it is good to see the NCAA require Penn State to make a direct contribution to help ensure a tragedy like this won’t be allowed to occur again.

The NCAA should be applauded for recognizing that this was not only a football issue, but an issue of basic values. It had the fortitude or arrogance, depending on your point of view, to accept the responsibility of applying morality to this case and take a step toward redefining and reclaiming the spirit of collegiate athletics.

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