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July 18, 2012

NCAA President: Death Penalty Possible for Penn State: In an NPR interview Monday, NCAA president Mark Emmert would not rule out shutting down the Penn State football program because of the way allegations of sexual abuse by former coach Jerry Sandusky were covered up. Emmert said he had "never seen anything as egregious as this in terms of just overall conduct and behavior inside a university." The so-called death penalty was last assessed on a major athletic program against SMU in 1987. Mark Jones, the NCAA's former managing director of enforcement, said the case could bring major changes to how the NCAA polices schools. He asked, "When do you step in and when do you not step in, and do you always have to step in, now that you've potentially stepped in here?"

posted by rcade to football at 09:58 AM - 34 comments

Banner flown over Penn State Tuesday: "Take the Statue Down or We Will."

Kudos to Michael Bryant for that brilliant photo.

posted by rcade at 10:00 AM on July 18

My view on this is that unlike most NCAA cases, everyone who did something to hide or cover this up is going to be subject to repercussions from the legal system, either via criminal charges or civil lawsuits. Those people will more than likely get what they deserve. Further NCAA punishment would simply result in punishing the innocent.

Of course, your mileage may vary.

posted by TheQatarian at 10:54 AM on July 18

Of course, your mileage may vary.

It does. Suggested reading.

posted by lil_brown_bat at 11:03 AM on July 18

I agree with TheQatarian. If the NCAA has to punish the school, there are other ways to do it besides the "death penalty". Take away bowl games. Fine the school some outrageous amount of money.

The football program generates enough money to run all the other sports. Those student atheletes shouldn't have to suffer because there is no money to run their sport.

posted by dbt302 at 11:48 AM on July 18

That's a hostage argument, dbt302. Hostage arguments fail because they have things exactly backwards.

posted by lil_brown_bat at 12:51 PM on July 18

Those student atheletes shouldn't have to suffer because there is no money to run their sport.

So let them keep their scholarships if they want to stay and just be unhyphenated students. When the subject of paying college athletes comes up around here, we always get people saying they should be happy to have a scholarship. Let's see if that's true.

posted by yerfatma at 01:01 PM on July 18

Taking away bowls or fining it heavily also would affect Penn State's ability to fund all of its sports. If football went away for a year or two, it would be the school's choice whether to fund the other sports or not during the shortfall in expected revenue.

Surely a school as big as Penn State wouldn't drop all sports simply because its football program suffered a setback. That didn't happen at SMU.

posted by rcade at 02:13 PM on July 18

If you'd like to spend some time in the past, visit the pitch for JoePa the movie. "The success of a film like The Blind Side shows us that audiences will support a film with a moral core. That's an element of Joe's story that we want to capitalize upon."

posted by rcade at 02:26 PM on July 18

Believe me, I'm not going to throw my opinions into this again at the rate I did the last thread. This case is unique, though, because penalties against Penn State will result in young people being the ultimate victims, due to a case where young people were victimized.

Sad. I guess Jerry Sandusky and the handful of others involved in this disgrace will succeed in wreaking more havoc.

posted by dyams at 02:26 PM on July 18

My hunch is that the NCAA is hanging the specter of death over Penn State to inspire the school to punish itself pre-emptively.

posted by rcade at 02:28 PM on July 18

... young people being the ultimate victims, due to a case where young people were victimized.

I'm not a fan of this analogy. I hate it when a college coach describes his players as kids.

College students are not the same thing as children in their early teens. A college student is usually an adult, and adults are responsible for the people and institutions they choose to associate with.

posted by rcade at 02:31 PM on July 18

A college student is usually an adult, and adults are responsible for the people and institutions they choose to associate with

I agree with that statement. That doesn't change the fact that, right or wrong, this whole situation and its possible results just fucking sucks for the "blameless" members of the PSU student body. Oh well, you win some, you lose some.

posted by tahoemoj at 02:43 PM on July 18

The argument that Penn State should be allowed to keep playing football because of the players who have already committed, etc., seems to rest on the implicit premise that this organization, which was so fatally and irretrievably flawed in its leadership that it sheltered a known pedophile for on the order of 10 years, potentially longer, is somehow capable of exercising good judgement in its other arenas of responsibility. That's a hell of a question to beg, in my view.

In my opinion the question shouldn't be whether or not they deserve to have their program axed, but rather whether they have done enough to deserve it being spared that fate.

posted by feloniousmonk at 03:10 PM on July 18

My hunch is that the NCAA is hanging the specter of death over Penn State to inspire the school to punish itself pre-emptively.

Yeah, I was going to say something like this. I suspect the Pennsylvania General Assembly might even pre-empt the Board of Trustees if the latter doesn't move quickly enough. They don't technically have any power over the university, except for the $278 million that at least one legislator already threatened to withhold if the university wasn't sufficiently forthcoming during the early stages of the investigation.

posted by Etrigan at 03:10 PM on July 18

That doesn't change the fact that, right or wrong, this whole situation and its possible results just fucking sucks for the "blameless" members of the PSU student body.

When a bus is late, or doesn't show, it fucking sucks for all the people at the bus stop who were counting on taking that bus. It sucks a lot worse for the person that the bus ran over fifty feet from the bus stop, causing the bus to be unable to complete its normal route. When things like that happen, although (as so many people keep repeating) it does suck for the people waiting for the bus, given the much more severe injury to someone else in the situation, perhaps they shouldn't make such a big deal of how deeply they've been harmed.

posted by lil_brown_bat at 03:39 PM on July 18

Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with whatever punishment the NCAA sees fit to dole out. Just commenting that I'd be fucking pissed if I was a student-athlete, or just a student at Penn State right about now.

posted by tahoemoj at 04:18 PM on July 18

As someone who's never followed college sports, never participated in them, never gone to college sports games, and graduated from a Big Ten school, my bias is clear. I know college sports bring in a lot of money for schools, but goddamnit, education is the reason you're there. Not the fucking sports.

Shut down the program for a year, five years, whatever. The school won't close down because football isn't being played there anymore, and if it does? Then it shouldn't have stood as long as it has, resting solely on the laurels and good graces of collegiate sporting funds. Then it wasn't a college in the first place, just a figurehead for the ultimate commodity being provided: sports, under the guise/facade/what-have-you of higher education.

posted by evixir at 10:09 PM on July 18

Part of the major issue here is that the cover-up wasn't limited to the football program. The choice to cover this up was made at the highest levels of the University. That is something we need to keep reminding ourselves about. Men who were given the responsibility to act in the name of the Penn State made the decision to protect Sandusky and the football program.

This is a huge problem because, on the one hand, yes it was a group of corrupt men who did this. On the other hand, these corrupt men were acting on behalf on Penn State when they made these decisions.

There is a huge systemic problem when something dreadful happens in an institution and, rather than righting itself, the agents of the system ensure that the dreadful thing continues for over a decade.

Replacing a few people isn't going to get the job done. There needs to be some sort of massive, systemic change and that almost never works when done from the inside. Too many people who will want to protect their own turf to the detriment of worthwhile change.

This is why, in the long run, a severe NCAA punishment is actually a good thing. It forces Penn State to make some serious changes and limits the ability of individual agents from within the system preventing those changes.

posted by Joey Michaels at 10:58 PM on July 18

The school won't close down because football isn't being played there anymore, and if it does? Then it shouldn't have stood as long as it has, resting solely on the laurels and good graces of collegiate sporting funds.

I don't really see the logical step you're making here. If a school gets money from football, the school is somehow less deserving of existing?

posted by Etrigan at 11:46 PM on July 18

If a school gets money from football, the school is somehow less deserving of existing?

If a school only existed because of its football program, maybe the school really isn't a "school" at that point.

posted by grum@work at 12:32 AM on July 19

If a school gets money from football, the school is somehow less deserving of existing?

If a school only existed because of its football program, maybe the school really isn't a "school" at that point.

For one, no one (here, at least) is actually saying that, so let's drop the reverse-pearl-clutching about how people are fainting because Penn State will die, die I say, if one hair is touched on that statue's precious head! No one is saying that Penn State "only exists because of football". But even if it did, based on the idea that football represents a major funding stream that offsets a lot of other activities that are directly educational or clearly in support of the school's educational mission -- why does that make it less of a school? There are several colleges that don't charge tuition at all -- are they not legitimate educational institutions because they have alternate revenue streams?

Note: I am not arguing for or against a Penn State death penalty in this particular subthread, just the idea that if a school "relies" in any way on football -- whether the money or the exposure -- it is inherently less of a "school." The operating margins at colleges these days (public or private) are pretty thin, and the extra money that football directly provides ($22M a year at Notre Dame, $5M at Texas) can easily be the reason that a school within that college remains open. Does anyone care to argue that Notre Dame, Texas or Penn State don't actually provide good educations, despite the obvious reliance on football as a revenue stream and marketing tool?

posted by Etrigan at 08:29 AM on July 19

It's been repeatedly asserted that football is a massive moneymaker at Penn State, and that if we aren't exactly going to come out and say that this justifies its appalling abuses and overweening self-importance, surely we ought to consider all the harm that will be done to remove that money from the equation (a hostage argument, as I mentioned above...don't make me shoot these passengers!). I'd like to see some actual numbers to substantiate these assertion that "football represents a major funding stream that offsets a lot of other activities that are directly educational or clearly in support of the school's educational mission". Those numbers should, of course, also include the football program's expenses -- all of them.

posted by lil_brown_bat at 08:38 AM on July 19

Penn State has a budget of $4.3 billion. A seven-year public fundraising campaign ended in 2003 after raising $1.3 billion for the school. Last year was its best ever for donations, at $208 million.

The school's athletic budget is $92 million. In 2009-10, the athletic department made $18 million profit.

Given the generosity of its donors and the school's considerable financial resources as the biggest university in Pennsylvania, it is highly unlikely its other sports programs would not survive a 1-2 year ban on football.

posted by rcade at 09:32 AM on July 19

According to the cited article, "the Athletic Department contributed $12 million to the University's general operating budget in the form of tuition for all of its scholarship athletes." In other words, the AD gave the University $12 million earmarked as athlete scholarships, not for "a lot of other activities". Presumably that $12 million is counted as part of the AD's costs, and the $18 million profit goes somewhere unknown. There's no evidence that it goes into the university budget, and the phrasing of the article makes that seem unlikely.

posted by lil_brown_bat at 09:51 AM on July 19

lbb, please look at the remainder of that sentence -- the part where I make it clear that I am arguing a hypothetical, predicated on the idea that money flows into the rest of the university from football and asking the question that, if this is true, then does that make the university "not a real school," as people are asserting?

I'm not trying to figure out whether the money Penn State makes from football is enough to balance out enabling the rape of children for more than a decade. It's not. I'm not even trying to show that there will be excessive collateral damage from a football death penalty. I agree that there should be one (I just want it to come from a non-NCAA source, because that sets a huge bar to clear for other programs that are merely corrupt instead of criminal).

I'm asking a hypothetical question, based on what evixir and grum said above, as to whether a school can both rely on money from sports to fund other academic pursuits (as, for instance, Notre Dame clearly has done for decades) and still consider itself a "real" university.

posted by Etrigan at 10:21 AM on July 19

I understand that you're asking a hypothetical question, Etrigan. My point is that before anyone can even consider whether the amount of money brought in by Penn State football should mitigate its punishment (and assuming that that's even worthy of consideration; I understand that you're questioning that), first you have to demonstrate that the money is really there, and is contributing to something other than the program itself.

posted by lil_brown_bat at 10:26 AM on July 19

I agree with TheQatarian here, for slightly different reasons: the NCAA should stick to handing out arbitrary bullshit punishments for its own stupid bullshit rules.

It's as if a homeowners' association is being asked to pass judgement on somebody abusing children in their home.

posted by etagloh at 10:42 AM on July 19

The Equity in Athletics site has Penn State football bringing in $72 million in revenues to $19 million in expenses, but I think the fact that football is a moneymaker is irrelevant to the punishment. This seems bigger than the football department, and I don't think the NCAA is in the best position to ensure that major changes are made to the culture of the institution. They can't change the Board, the President, or any of the other things that need to change.

posted by bperk at 10:47 AM on July 19

My question has nothing to do with penalties on Penn State. My question is whether universities are somehow de-legitimized by making money from athletics to the point that removal of that revenue stream would do harm to the university (as any removal of revenue would do), as people upthread seem to believe.

posted by Etrigan at 11:53 AM on July 19

I wouldn't think so, but I went to one of those de-legitimized schools.

posted by bperk at 12:20 PM on July 19

It's a case of moving goalposts. "Destroy" slides into "do harm" and back at a convenient rate.

posted by Hugh Janus at 01:04 PM on July 19

Ah fuck em. If the school relies on football for the math department then so be it. If not, then so be it sideways.

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 05:48 PM on July 19

Penn State may have intentionally withheld evidence from the Sandusky grand jury, Gov. Tom Corbett said today. University emails implicating university officials did not come to light until after charges had been filed.

posted by rcade at 09:53 PM on July 19

I think there are more than income streams and operating budgets involved. Prestige is also a factor.

There are some academic departments at Penn State that are currently highly regarded that were not always held in such high regard or previously did not exist. Just as PSU football was not always regarded as a national power.

My impression is that the university as a whole expanded and gained prestige in a manner and on a timeline similar to that of the football program. A case might be made that the rising tide of football prowess helped lift all boats at PSU.

It's useful to remember that there was a time when Paterno had to fight like hell for recognition of Penn State football as being nationally competitive and relevant. Heading into the 1970's Penn State routinely got the Rodney Dangerfield treatment. The program was not given serious consideration in discussions that included schools like Alabama, USC, and Ohio State, and had to scrap for every increment of greater recognition it got in a gradual climb toward a level of respectability that seemed begrudgingly bestowed.

To me, this determined uphill belly crawl to prove that PSU belonged on the national stage helps explain how Paterno's program came to be held sacred by the school to the point where administrators were utterly subject to the coach's wishes and willingly did whatever they thought necessary to safeguard and perpetuate the lustrous Nittany Lion narrative.

posted by beaverboard at 12:21 AM on July 20

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