Thursday, July 26, 2012

Penn State and the NCAA

By Tom Kando

The Penn State child sex abuse scandal has been the top of the news for a year or so.  Because I have some painful memories about Penn State myself, I haven’t written about this.  But I have changed my mind. After all, I taught at Penn State. Not only was I a professor there, I was in the VERY SAME SHOP as Joe Paterno and Jerry Sandusky. My tenure-track position was in the College of Health, Physical Education and Recreation  - the same unit which houses the athletic program, including varsity football. I regularly bumped into people like Paterno and Sandusky in Rec Hall’s hallways, offices  and locker rooms.

To add to the coincidences, my wife was a graduate student in family studies under Graham Spanier, who was then a professor of Sociology.

The July 25 Sacramento Bee reports the results of a poll: Respondents were asked “What do you  think of the Penn State punishment?” 23% found it too lenient, 40% just about right, and 37% found it too harsh.I agree.

You may ask: what do you mean, you agree? What do you agree with? Let me explain:

1. Sandusky himself and those who covered it up: Too lenient. I hope Sandusky suffers a lot, once he is behind bars.

2. Regarding the administrators involved, justice seems to be following the right course, so far: President Graham Spanier was fired, the lying Vice-President Gary Schultz and Athletic Director Tim Curley have been criminally indicted.  Joe Paterno is no longer regarded as a deity.

3. And then, there are the sanctions against Penn State. A $60 million penalty; a 4-year post-season ban; loss of 10 scholarships per year; “vacating” all of Penn State’s victories from 1998 to 2011.

I suppose I should rejoice. Penn State treated me badly when I was there. I was privy to some academic  shenanigans myself.  Back then, football was already a religion, interfering with  education and everything else. The JoePa cult was alive and well. Some people wanted the legendary coach  to run for President of the US!

But I don’t rejoice. I ask myself: From which part of the University budget does the $60 million penalty come? What happens to the dozens of student-athletes already playing football for Penn State? How about ex-Penn State players? Former running back Evan Royster made a good point on Twitter: “So, I lost every college football game I ever played in?” And how  is the fall-out going to affect the University as a whole, its status, its finances, its endowments, its alumni contributions, its research and educational programs,  the general student body and the faculty?  Thousands upon thousands of people who had nothing to do with the scandal.

You see, I am not generally impressed by  the dispensation of justice by one bureaucracy  against another. For some  reason, I can’t see the NCAA as a beacon of justice and morality. Call me prejudiced.

I see the NCAA more as a money machine. The problem is systemic. As Pete Thamel (Sacramento Bee, July 24) notes, college sports are booming and “the money involved in (it) is staggering and growing exponentially.” Nowadays, many offensive and defensive coordinators (not just head coaches!) make over $1 million a year, i.e. more than the university president!

The increase in financial incentives goes hand in hand with more and more high-profile scandals at prominent programs (Miami, Ohio State, USC, Oregon, Tennessee, etc.).

Granted, the Penn State scandal  is a unique “perfect storm” - pedophilia combined with cover-up.  But without the $$$$$$$$$$$-nexus,  the cover-up is much less likely to have  happened. And that part ain’t gonna change. leave comment here