Hoppy’s Commentary on NCAA Decision

British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli described a university as "a place of light, liberty and learning."

Apparently Disraeli was no fan of big time college athletics.

Monday, the NCAA announced an unprecedented level of punishment for Penn State for its failures in the Jerry Sandusky child sex assault scandal.  The storied university was fined $60 million, banned from postseason play for four years, had all football victories from 1998 to 2011 (111) wiped out and was ordered to reduce its football scholarships.

It’s not a death penalty, but it forever changes the direction of the historic football program, one that was once held up as among the most virtuous.  

In announcing its decision, the NCAA made the direct link between the failure of the university to stop Sandusky and the power of football at Penn State.

"By perpetuating a ‘football first’ culture that ultimately enabled serial child sexual abuse to occur, The Pennsylvania State University leadership failed to value and uphold the institutional integrity, resulting in a breach of the NCAA Constitution and rules."

There it is.  Football came first, contributing to the ultimate in institutional failure.

The decision sent many searching through rules and bylaws for justification for the NCAA’s remarkable action.  Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby, although cautious in his comments Monday at Big 12 media day, did wonder about the findings.

"I don’t know that it is absolutely clear on what basis this becomes an NCAA issue," Bowlsby said.  "Having said that, there are certainly elements of our constitution and bylaws that go right to the heart of ethics, and clearly there are some ethical issues here."

Perhaps the concern by college and conference administrators is that the NCAA could act with impunity, leaving institutions on the short end of due process. 

But what else was the NCAA going to do?  As the Freeh report found, which the NCAA clearly understood, the deification of Joe Paterno within the university community suppressed good judgment and upset rational checks and balances that help keep organizations in line. 

There was a strong scent of irony that on the very day the NCAA was holding a major institution responsible for letting football rule the roost, the media (yours truly included) were engaged in an extravaganza, publicizing, and in some cases celebrating, big time college football. 

America loves major college sports. Fans want their teams to be successful.  A coach with a subpar record cannot survive in today’s hyper-competitive environment with the argument that he is "building character." 

Still, it is the institutions themselves that have the responsibility of staying true to their mission, even in the face of myriad pressures to put entertainment above education–something NCAA President Mark Emmert noted in the Penn State decision. 

"At our core, we are educators.  Penn State leadership lost sight of that," said Emmert. 

Penn State is suffering, appropriately, for the scandal, but the lesson is applicable for any college or university that misplaces its priorities.  Light, liberty and learning come first. 

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