Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, August 16, 2012


Page 7



Penn State Sanctions: Stupid, Inconsistent and Unfair




 (The writer is a retired trial lawyer, an American Board of Trial Advocates member since 1978 and a former professor of torts at five California law schools. He counts 4,000 of his former students among California’s lawyers and judges. He was presiding referee of the Disciplinary Board, later called the State Bar Court. He is a former member of the State Bar Board of Governors—1980 to 1983—and the Judicial Council of California.)

This column, on November 9, 2011, predicted the demise of college football as it is presently known. What originated in the Harvard-Yale rivalry, nourished by such stalwarts as Walter Camp, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Amos Alonzo Stagg, John Heisman and Knute Rockne, nurtured by the advent of television, it is now too big (and too stupid) not to fail. The N.C.A.A. administered what will turn into its death blow with its actions at Penn State.

What started out as the storied rivalry between the best student athletes at one university with the best student athletes at another university has turned into a disaster. Recruitment substituted for volunteer enrollment. Now the death of college football has been aided by the sanctions meted out by the N.C.A.A. on Penn State. These sanctions were stupid, inconsistent, unfair and self-destructive. It is now doubtful whether even as a system of farm clubs, a la baseball, which college football now is, can still save the college rivalries from utter extinction.

Recruitment, of course, has abolished the consent of the best student athletes vying against the best student athletes from another university. That concept was the main thesis of the November 9, 2011 column. What has now been added is the stupidity of the N.C.A.A. in dealing with the Penn State problem. It is doubtful when an appeal to one’s college loyalty can long endure. Television and the National Football League are just too strong and powerful to allow the continuance of what used to be Saturday afternoon’s 2:00 p.m. entertainment.

The sins of Penn State were enormous but not football related. An assistant coach was seen engaging a young boy in an act of sex abuse in the shower in the locker room at Penn State. The scandal quickly was reported to the legendary coach, the Athletic Director, the President of the university and other members of the university governing board. The only people that were forgotten to be notified were State officials. Eleven years passed. Other young children were molested. The perpetrator was enabled to continue his monstrous activities. Gross misconduct? Yes. Football related? No.

When the scandal broke, the school finally acted. The legendary coach, Joe Paterno (since deceased), resigned as did the Athletic Director, the President and Vice-President of the university, and criminal proceedings were instituted by the state against the assistant coach, now obviously a former coach. No one knows how many other rapes of young children were committed. The prosecutions of eleven acts were held and all resulted in convictions and a well-deserved prison term.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (N.C.A.A.) then took over and imposed sanctions which in effect will spell the death of football at the university and, in the opinion of this writer, of college football as we now know it.

The system of college football had become one big lie. It had become a contest between recruited players who served their apprentice years before being allowed to enter the N.F.L. The playing of the alma mater, the “traditional” rivalries, the bowl games, were all a veneer to cover up the sale of tickets, television rights, parking and hot dogs. Players were recruited, given scholarships, stipendiums. Players signed up right out of high schools, mostly attended (if at all) easy classes and dropped out of college when their football eligibility expired, never to return to college. Their return to graduate was almost minimal. Just lately was this system of recruitment publicized. To most fans it had been nearly non-existent. As previously noted in this column, the system was self-destructive. Passage of time cannot legitimize a lie.

Comes now the N.C.A.A. with its sanctions which are declared non-appealable. It could be a puzzle why the N.C.A.A. even became involved. There were no recruitment violations, no under the table pay offers, no football cheating or other misconduct. All that was claimed, although properly claimed, was that Penn State put its integrity on the line (correct) to advance its football program. Punishment was imposed upon the fans, the alumni, those who attended the games and players for the simple reason that those who ran the university were not nice guys. The closest these sins came to football violations was the proper but thin allegations that athletic culture was placed ahead of educational goals. Nowhere was it claimed that this was not an N.C.A.A. matter and that it belonged in the criminal and civil courts

Penn State’s sanctions consisted of a sixty million dollar fine, a four-year bowl ban, massive scholarship bans, the vacating of 111 wins (between 1998 and 2011) and ineligibility of a football title for four years.

The scholarship cuts, of course, more than any other sanction, crippled the strength of the team. By comparison, USC had lost 30 scholarships for its previous transgressions. Penn State lost 80 scholarships. The four-year ineligibility to participate in bowl competition took its toll in alumni and player enthusiasm. One hundred and eleven football wins (between 1998 and 2011) were vacated which appears more stupid than punitive since its purports to nullify a fan’s good feeling of an event which many spectators may not even remember. It’s like stipulating to an immaterial issue.

Lastly, the N.C.A.A. ruled that those who had scholarships would be allowed to transfer to other colleges. While this is fair to the student athletes who are involved, it caused an immediate magnet to scouting and recruiting assistant coaches and coaches to appear in State College. Eight Illinois assistant coaches turned up in what appeared to be a poaching season. The irony of all this: USC showed up, landed Penn State’s star tailback, Silas Redd, which will probably insure USC, itself still on N.C.A.A. probation, with a national or near national championship. What a twist to a situation which should have never been allowed to have happened. All this occurred because the N.C.A.A. wrestled successfully for a power which it didn’t have, then abused that power and created a self-destructive situation by imposing a penalty on a crime (the football situation) which did not fit the crime and where the institution did not even have the power to exercise it.


Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company