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NCAA hammer doesn't nail it

Penn State sanctions are harsh, but this case called for something, well, unprecedented.

July 24, 2012|CHRIS DUFRESNE
  • NCAA President Mark Emmert announces sanctions and penalties against Penn State and its football program on Monday in Indianapolis.
NCAA President Mark Emmert announces sanctions and penalties against… (Joe Robbins / Getty Images )

Let's be clear: The NCAA on Monday hit Penn State football with five tons of grid iron.

NCAA President Mark Emmert was given extraordinary power to use Wild West justice in the most heinous of circumstances.

Emmert correctly called the child sex abuse case that led to former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky's conviction "an unprecedented, painful chapter in the history of college athletics."

Penn State's football program, as I suggested in November after the scandal broke, is probably doomed for a decade.

"We WERE Penn State."

The litany of penalties Czar Emmert issued against Penn State includes a $60-million fine, five years' probation, a four-year bowl ban and the loss of scholarships. Recruits and players committed to the program will be able to walk away without penalty.

Penn State will vacate 111 football wins dating to 1998, which effectively undercuts what was the legacy of former coach Joe Paterno.

It sounds harsh, punitive and corrective.

Emmert assured that this was not a "Pandora's box" in which the NCAA would now routinely intervene in criminal cases in which no actual NCAA rules were violated.

Yet, the NCAA set itself up for years to come by allowing the Penn State case to be compared to all others -- which should never have happened.

Nothing will ever compare to what Sandusky did at Penn State.

Smart folks are arguing the NCAA had no jurisdiction in this case.

"I don't know that it is absolutely clear on what basis this becomes an NCAA issue," first-year Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby, the former athletic director at Stanford, said Monday. "Having said that, there are certainly elements of our constitution and bylaws that go right to the heart of ethics. . . ."

The Paterno family, which needs to quit putting out statements and start dealing with some harsh realities, said Emmert's decision without a thorough examination was "an abdication of their responsibilities" and "a breach of their fiduciary duties."

The Michael L. Buckner Law Firm, which represents schools standing before the NCAA infractions committee, issued a Monday statement that read in part, "The NCAA's actions, no matter how noble and justified to address the egregious behavior in the Penn State case, have charted an unprecedented course of action and created a slippery slope . . ."

If the NCAA was going to get involved, though, should it have not used its entire arsenal of options?

In fact, the NCAA spared Penn State, the worst lack-of-institutional-control offender of all time, the most crushing penalties.

It did not invoke the so-called "death penalty" and order the football program closed for at least a year -- could you imagine the Big Ten scheduling conflicts?

It also did not ban Penn State from television appearances because, well, that's way too much TV money to deprive next week's opponent.

You might reasonably ask: How could the most egregious acts in collegiate history not lead to the most severe penalties?

Emmert said the suspension of football would "bring significant unintended harm to many who had nothing to do with this case."

As if that never happens?

Matt Barkley had nothing to do with USC's probation yet has one Emerald Bowl ring to show for his three years at the school.

The NCAA's problem here is it already set precedent.

In 1987, it banned Southern Methodist for one season for violations that pale in comparison with what happened at Penn State.

SMU players took money from boosters, giving us the classic take-away phrase, "We had a payroll to meet."

Emmert's edict allows Penn State sanctions to be unreasonably compared to garden-variety NCAA skulduggery.

People at USC are left to think: "So what Penn State did was only twice as bad as Reggie Bush's parents living rent-free in a condo?"

USC is in the midst of NCAA probation that included a two-year bowl ban and loss of 30 scholarships.

Penn State will be banned from bowls for the next four years and lose at least 10 scholarships a year during that stretch.

That burns like 10 hornet stingers, but there is no comparing the two cases. Yet, people can now do it.

Miami is under NCAA investigation for serious football-related accusations, but the Hurricanes can rest easy knowing that no matter what happens, they're still going to be on TV!

By not going all out against Penn State, Emmert may have compromised future cases that come before the infractions committee.

He did take bold action. He also obliterated due process.

There was incredible public pressure for Emmert to do something and do it fast.

As you know, it can take the NCAA years to determine whether a nose guard putting cream cheese on a bagel constitutes a rules violation.

Had this been a normal case, under normal violation parameters, the penalties issued against Penn State would have risen to their proper height.

But this wasn't a normal case. So if the NCAA was going to get involved -- and that's a big "if" -- it should have unleashed all of its available wrath and fury.

Emmert talked tough, and the NCAA hit hard.

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