"College football is a sport that bears the same relation to education that bullfighting does to agriculture." ....Elbert Hubbard.

Commentary of the Day - July 25, 2012: Penn State - Punishing a Culture of Administrative Corruption.

On Monday (July 23, 2012) the NCAA issued a series of sanctions against the Pennsylvania State University football program in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal that arguably are the harshest in the history of the association.  In addition, the Big Ten Conference added its own penalties against the program.

These sanctions include: a $60-million fine to be paid over five years, a ban on appearances in post-season games until 2016, a reduction in the allowable number of football recruits from 25 per year to 15 per year until 2016, a reduction of the total number of football players on scholarship to 65 from the normal 85 between 2014 and 2017, current players are immediately eligible to transfer to other colleges and universities without penalty, current players on scholarship also can choose to remain at Penn State without competing and keep their scholarships so long as they meet academic requirements, Penn State also will forfeit its share of Big Ten bowl money over the next four years with that money instead going to charities dedicated to the protection of children.

In addition, the 112 victories that Penn State won between 1998 and 2011 have been declared "vacated," counting neither as a victory for Penn State nor a win for the the opponents in the statistics.

As harsh as these penalties are -- including the last one that in effect penalizes the players who had no role in the scandal, as well as Joe Paterno, who was their coach for 111 of those wins -- they do not include the so-called "death penalty," which would have prevented Penn State from fielding a football team for at least one year.  Penn State can continue to play football albeit with a team that is likely to be severely hobbled for several seasons to come.

As the Freeh Report has shown in bleak detail, the failures at Penn State clearly were institutional and administrative in nature.  Paterno together with high university officials colluded to cover up the crimes that Jerry Sandusky perpetrated on children during and after his time on the Penn State football coaching staff.  For decades football had been a high-profit item at Penn State.  Under Paterno, football came to dominate the culture of the university.  It became the local industry.  On game days the football stadium often held crowds that were twice as large as the total population of State College, PA.  Clearly, the Penn State administration was loath to damage that brand.

It appears now that the university officials who participated in the cover-up will be held criminally liable, as well they should.  But, it is not clear to the Irascible Professor that all these sanctions and prosecutions will be enough to change permanently the administrative culture at Penn State, which has ignored to a large extent the role of the faculty in university governance, and which has forgotten the basic purposes of the university; namely, teaching and scholarship.  Football has so dominated Penn State that few people realize that it's actually a very good institution of higher education.  Though it perhaps is not in the same class as Harvard or Princeton or even the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia; nevertheless, Penn State houses some excellent academic departments and many excellent scholars and researchers.  And, many more of its academic departments and programs have the potential to be first-rate if the administrative culture can be changed to focus more on what is important for a university, and to put athletics into proper perspective.

It's too bad that the NCAA did not impose a significant "death penalty" on Penn State.  A five to ten year hiatus in the football program might have shown the trustees and the administration, that a university can be great without a football program.

It's also unfortunate that players who had no role in the scandal are being penalized along with those who did have a role.  Perhaps those 112 wins could go into the record books with asterisks indicating that the games were won by the players, but were vacated on account of actions by the administration unrelated to the conduct of the players.

[Full disclosure: In the past the Irascible Professor has collaborated on research projects with members of the Penn State faculty.]

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© 2012 Dr. Mark H. Shapiro - All rights reserved.
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