Enough is Enough – Landscape of College Sports Must Change
As the dust settles from the Freeh Report on the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal at Penn State, it’s incredibly clear to me that the school’s football program deserves the NCAA’s “death penalty.”
It’s also clear that the school doesn’t meet the criteria for the rule, which requires the school to have been on probation within five years of a second, major violation.
Obviously, the NCAA didn’t have the foresight to plan for a scandal of this magnitude in making the rule. Still, Penn State’s football program needs to be dealt with properly to send a message to the rest of the country.
The NCAA should deliver the death penalty and dare Penn State to challenge it. Sure, a lawsuit might overturn it, but that seems an unlikely scenario for Penn State to pursue.
Would the school’s Board of Trustees be so unchanged as to fight such a penalty, rather than accepting responsibility? Even if so, does Penn State really want that publicity?
Yes, innocent people will suffer. Players and students who had no role in or knowledge of the scandal will lose out. But if no stern message is sent now, how many innocent victims of crimes may suffer in the future?
If other programs know the death penalty isn’t on the table for a first offense, no matter how serious, they may risk covering up serious crimes in the future to preserve millions of dollars in revenue.
It’s time to send a message, and if the NCAA won’t do it, Penn State’s Board of Trustees should.
That is, if Karen Peetz, Penn State’s Chair of the Board of Trustees, truly meant it when she said, “We will earn [trust] back, as we move forward and develop a culture of transparency and accountability.”
What message does it send to let the program off the hook? What kind of accountability is there if Penn State continues to rake in around $50 million a year with no repercussions after its most important leaders covered up child sex abuse to preserve the reputation and revenue stream of a football program.
And yes, this is about football, even if Joe Paterno disagreed.
“This is not a football scandal and should not be treated as one,” Paterno wrote in a letter shortly before he died.
If it were a science professor, rather than a defensive coordinator, who sexually abused children on campus, would there have been a cover up? People don’t go to great lengths to cover up scandals that don’t involve the millions of dollars a top-flight athletic program brings in.
This is a football scandal, and it should absolutely be treated as one. If the NCAA won’t give Penn State the death penalty, then it needs to be self-imposed.
A message must be sent to the rest of the college sports world that covering up crimes is completely, utterly unacceptable and will be dealt with accordingly.
Even more than that, we need to change the way we do sports with an eye toward the future. There is too much money and too much power to trust individuals to fulfill their moral responsibilities as leaders.
But we can’t place all of the blame on them, claim we just need more trustworthy people in those important positions and move forward. We must shoulder our share of the responsibility.
I believe one reason people in State College are lashing out at the media while rushing to defend Joe Paterno and Penn State is that they feel partly to blame. Deep down, they know that they helped create a culture in Happy Valley where football ruled all.
The thing is, we’re all to blame.
If you’ve ever spent money on team apparel – sweatshirts, t-shirts, jerseys, hats or jackets, you’ve helped create the current climate.
If you’ve ever spent money on memorabilia –autographs, game-worn jerseys, footballs, helmets, keychains or bobbleheads, you’ve helped turn sports into big business.
A quick search on Amazon.com tells me I can buy a Penn State baby towel, license plate, garden gnome, mouse pad, keychain, toothbrush, piggy bank or duct tape.
And that was only on the first two pages of items. I mean, do we really need to be spending money on team-branded duct tape? Really?
If you’ve ever bought a framed picture or a poster...if you’ve ever spent money on tickets, trips to see games or a package of sports channels on television...if you’ve ever bought a few beers at a sports bar just so you could watch a game...if you’ve ever listened to sports talk on the radio, or watched sports programming for hours on end, thus driving up advertising revenue.
If you’ve ever read a newspaper, or a sports article online. Yeah, I’m talking to you.
You and I, along with the millions of sports fans around the world, owners of teams, commissioners of professional leagues and college conferences, college administrators and coaches, have turned sports into big business.
If the 126 profitable college football and basketball programs in 2010-2011 were a company, the profits ($1.384 billion) would rank in the top 400 on the Forbes Global 2000.
You and I, and the others listed above, have created an environment where the rules are all written in shades of gray because there’s so much to be gained by breaking them.
Penn State’s football program brought in more than $50 million in profit in 2010-2011. The highest paid college coaches make $4 to $5 million, although Paterno’s salary was lower – still in excess of $1 million.
How far would you go to protect a stream of $50 million a year that personally made you $5 million? When one or two wins can be the difference between keeping a job and getting fired, and that much money is at stake, people’s morals are compromised.
The list of clear-cut “rights” and “wrongs” becomes short. The gray area becomes wide. It should go without saying that covering up child rape is a clear-cut wrong, yet Penn State’s leaders deemed it to be in their best interest to cover it up.
What would you cover up for $5 million a year?
Would you break recruiting rules? Would you slip some money to players? After all, who does that hurt?
Would you cover up a crime? What if it was just a few players smoking weed? Who doesn’t experiment a little bit in college, right?
What if it was cocaine? What if the player swore it was a one-time thing? You might reason that he’s the only victim, and you’ve got five million reasons to help convince you that your logic is fine.
Would you cover up an assault? What if it was a bar fight and both sides were to blame?
So you keep pushing the line a little bit further. The shades of gray get darker, but you’re winning games, the money is pouring in and you’re beloved by the fans.
Maybe you’re trying to bypass the school’s student disciplinary process and the police and hand down punishment of players yourself, like Joe Paterno did in 2007 when six of his players were involved in a brawl.
The next thing you know, you’re not only lying, but also telling your players to lie and concocting a story about how a murdered player was dealing drugs to pay his tuition. Because if you’re Dave Bliss at Baylor in 2003, and you admit that you’re paying it, you’ll lose your job.
Or maybe you’re one of seven University of Miami coaches allowing booster Nevin Shapiro to give players cash or buy them prostitutes, trips on his yacht, trips to fancy restaurants and jewelry.
Eventually, you’re no longer standing on dark gray ground. You’re in a sea of black, covering up child rape.
Hopefully most of society would stop well short of those last three examples, if not sooner. That’s impossible to know or prove.
What I do know is that I no longer trust coaches, athletic directors or school officials to do the right thing, or to stop themselves before reaching way too far into the gray area.
Neither should you.
That means something has to change so that these individuals no longer have so much power and so many financial reasons to do the wrong thing with so little oversight.
We can’t stop schools from profiting off of successful teams, and we can’t stop good coaches from winning consistently and gaining power. So we have to find a way to catch those who break the rules and punish them severely.
Beefing up the current rules will do little. We need a brand new approach.
Let’s start by not in-sourcing compliance. Schools hire their compliance directors. That means that somebody whose salary is paid by the school, whose office is in the school, whose boss is in the athletics department, is in charge of making sure the school doesn’t break NCAA rules.
Because that doesn't foster a conflict of interest.
Let’s force schools to give the money that pays those salaries to the NCAA, who should oversee all compliance employees. The NCAA should tweak their job descriptions, so that they have a more active role in covering up non-compliance.
They should also rotate to different schools every 2-3 years, so they don’t get too close to the people they are monitoring.
Further, every profitable football and basketball program at the Division-I FBS level should be forced to give 10 percent of its profits to fund a new arm of the NCAA, the sole purpose of which is to monitor football and basketball programs.
There can be other sources of funding, but that’s a good start.
In 2010-2011, the new investigative department’s budget would have been more than $138 million. The Freeh Report cost Penn State $6.5 million, and his team spent eight months investigating their program. That’s $812,500 a month.
At that rate, $138 million would buy nearly 170 months of in depth investigation per year. There are 124 football teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision this year.
Throw in basketball and that’s 248 teams to monitor, which means each team would have an independent investigator snooping around for an average of three weeks a year.
How many scandals might that prevent?
How many innocent victims might that policy have saved, had it been in place in the late 90’s when Penn State began covering up Sandusky’s crimes?
That alone won’t solve the problem, though. Punishments need to be severe.
The NCAA’s “death penalty” isn’t a true deterrent since it only applies once a school is on probation. That means programs that aren’t on probation have free reign to break rules, with the risk being limited to losing access to post-season play, bowl games and scholarships.
So let’s toughen up on the true crimes, but at the same time let’s loosen up on the smaller crimes. Let’s open up recruiting rules, drug and alcohol rules and cheating rules.
How ridiculous are the current rules on drug abuse?
The NCAA does not require schools to have their own, internal drug-testing policy. However, once they do, the NCAA can punish them for not enforcing it.
So if School A’s policy is that marijuana, cocaine, crack, ecstasy and crystal methamphetamine are okay, but heroin is not, that’s fine with the NCAA. If School B’s policy bans all of those drugs, that’s fine too.
Then if a player at both of those schools smokes some pot, and School B covers it up, that is worthy of punishment. School A is in the clear, because it didn’t violate their policy.
The NCAA does test at its own championship events, but why don’t we just let the school's “student-athletes” adhere to the same policy as the rest of the school’s students on things like drugs, alcohol and cheating, with no direct ramifications on their athletic status?
Then coaches won’t be tempted to break any rules, and they will be less likely to begin that slow trek from white to light gray to medium gray to dark gray to black.
On the other hand, let’s end their careers when they do something serious.
If anyone tied to an athletic program plays any role in covering up a criminal offense, or failing to report it to police, they should be banned from holding any position at any NCAA member school in the future. Period.
Every contract should be written in a language the removes any pension or severance pay in the event of such a violation. No golden parachutes. Period.
No gray area, no wiggle room. Nothing.
If anyone ranked above the head coach has any knowledge of the crime or the cover up, they’re subject to the same punishment, but the school will pay as well. Forget the death penalty and the players and students caught in its crossfire. Let’s hit them where it hurts: their wallet.
When a school administrator is culpable in covering up a crime, failing to report a crime or providing the access to commit future crimes using school property or resources after failing to report the original allegations, the school must pay 25 percent of that program’s profits for the next year to fund the investigative arm of the NCAA and 25 percent to charities for victims.
If the program in question isn't profitable, they can pay $1 million a year to the NCAA and $1 million a year to charity.
Cover up two crimes? Two years. Five? Five years. 45? Better luck in 2057.
In Penn State’s case, the Sandusky scandal would have cost 45 years worth of 50 percent of its football profits. Based on the 2010-2011 profits, that’s more than a billion dollars.
Something tells me we wouldn’t see too many schools guilty in covering up crimes when the penalties are measured in the tens of millions, hundreds of millions or billions, as opposed to being measured in the loss of scholarships and bowl berths.
Some would argue those penalties are too severe or unfair. What’s unfair is that people like Joe Paterno, Graham Spanier, Tim Curley and Gary Schultz made Penn State millions of dollars while Jerry Sandusky’s victims suffered.
I’m tired of sports being even more unfair than life in general, and if that means levying extreme punishments because a few power-hungry, greedy and morally inept individuals can’t do the right thing, then so be it.
We’re talking about sports programs here. Not Enron. Sports. Not Lehman Brothers. Sports!
I, for one, have had enough. Remember when sports were fun? When life was unfair, but between the lines everything was fair? Remember when the worst “crimes” were things like bad calls and taunting?
I do, and I can’t take one more scandal. I can’t stomach another cover up. I can’t bear the thought of college sports getting even dirtier.
Neither should you, and neither should the NCAA.
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