In the wake of the Louis Freeh report on Penn State's response to the Jerry Sandusky scandal—and really, ever since the day the scandal hit—it's been fashionable to wonder out loud whether it was time for the NCAA to impose sanctions on Penn State for its unwillingness to put a stop to Sandusky's abuses when it had the opportunities.
In fact, speculation has reached such a fever pitch that there's even talk of the imposition of the "death penalty," a suspension of the program's play for a year or longer. That's a road the NCAA has only gone down once before, shuttering SMU's program for two years in the wake of repeated infractions involving a slush fund and players literally on a secret payroll.
So is it time to go down that road again? Lord, no—not unless we're willing to completely redefine not only the NCAA's bylaws, but the entire scope of what the NCAA even oversees to begin with.
First of all, the "death penalty" should be off the table for one simple reason: It doesn't apply to Penn State. In fact, as Ohio State blogger @OurHonorDefend points out, it only applies in one very specific, uncommon instance:
Worth reiterating that those clamoring for NCAA "death penalty" forget that's a repeat offender rule. Let's be realistic here, people.— Vico (@ourhonordefend) July 12, 2012
So let's just take that out of consideration straight away.
Then there's the dreaded "lack of institutional control," which certainly sounds like it ought to apply here, right? Looking at what Penn State officials allowed to transpire, if that's not a lack of control, what would be?
The problem with that line of thinking is what that charge actually refers to and what the institution is supposed to be controlling. The answer isn't "itself"; it's NCAA compliance. Here's how the NCAA describes the charge on its website:
A lack of institutional control is found when the Committee on Infractions determines that major violations occurred and the institution failed to display:
- Adequate compliance measures.
- Appropriate education on those compliance measures.
- Sufficient monitoring to ensure the compliance measures are followed.
- Swift action upon learning of a violation.
So that's three parts compliance with NCAA bylaws and one part enforcement of NCAA bylaws. For better or worse, what transpired at Penn State isn't an NCAA violation. Neither are most laws, in fact, because law enforcement isn't the NCAA's job; that's for the courts.
It's OK to want Penn State to be punished heavily for what transpired there. Horrible things happened there. What happened at Penn State should never happen again.
But no matter how strong your revulsion is toward Penn State officials for the Sandusky scandal—and that revulsion should be very strong—asking the NCAA to do something about it just isn't the right move here. Not unless you want the NCAA to be something it's never been before.