The world probably doesn’t need another rant about Penn State at this point but I want to look at this from a slightly different perspective. Historically, the NCAA has handed down sanctions for a large variety of infractions ranging from significant to down right petty. Many center around illegal payments made to star athletes which, by NCAA rules violates the inherent concept of these students being amateur athletes and therefore unable to accept any payment in cash or the equivalent no matter how small.
The worst of these violations, at least as they have been judged by the NCAA, have resulted in past championships being forfeited, the loss of future scholarship signings, etc. Although these penalties are very tough on the athletes and coaches not directly involved in the violation, I can understand the need to hand down these penalties in the spirit of following these rules. The question of the validity of the rules themselves is a subject for another day.
My beef is not with the penalties that go backwards (i.e. forfieting games in which the player or players who violated the rules played). My problem is with the idea of “paying it forward” when a violation is discovered. By that I mean, forcing athletes from future teams to pay the price for the sins of the past that they had nothing to do with.
The latest issue in this regard is also the most heinous. Of course, I am talking about Jerry Sandusky. Now that the penalty has been imposed which includes a $60 million fine, the lost of 40 scholarships over the next 4 years and the forfeiture of every win since 1998, we must look at the effect that this will have on future athletes and the reputation of Penn State in general going forward. Penn State has long-held a proud reputation as one of the strongest academic institutions in the country as well as a school with a very long and successful football program. We now find that program had the worst kind of criminal in their midst for up to two decades and a villain who was knowingly protected by one of the icons of college coaching and a stalwart of the Happy Valley community. Fortunately, the truth was discovered, albeit way too late, and Mr. Sandusky is behind bars where he should be. Mr. Paterno passed away before having to face his demons which would most certainly have forced him into the shame his family now has to live with. News has just come that they will remove the formerly beloved statue to his honor and that should certainly be done sooner rather than later.
But as I said, all of these facts are common knowledge now. My issue is this. Mr. Sandusky, Mr. Paterno and the other highest officials of both Penn State University and the football program will certainly be punished appropriately for their terrible acts and their desire to look the other way, fueled by their selfish need to protect the football program and university.
So why oh why is the NCAA now looking to punish future athletes who chose Penn State for its rich heritage? These are athletes who had nothing to do with past sins. Why should all of Penn State pay a price for the deeds of a few people no matter how unspeakable the crime? It appears that all parties involved after an exhaustive investigation, are either in prison, on their way to prison, or, in the case of Mr. Paterno, dead.
This forced me to look for a comparison in the business world that would be akin to this crazy kind of justice.
Enron, Madoff, Investment banks, Massey Coal and BP are just a few of the names that come up where the sins of the few had and continue to have long reaching and devastating effects on future people who had nothing to do with the crimes.
There is seemingly no cure for these ills. They will continue to happen in different industries and walks of life as certainly as we will continue to breathe. The difference is that in the Penn State situation, it didn’t have to be that way.