Debate Center, 7/31

NCAA Hands Down Tough Punishment to Penn State Football

Last week, the NCAA handed down their punishment against Penn State University’s men’s football program for the cover-up at the highest levels in the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal. The penalties handed down include a $60 million fine, a ban from appearing in postseason games for 4 years, the loss of football scholarships from 25 to 15 over the next 4 years and the vacating of all of Joe Paterno’s 111 victories from 1998 to 2011.

Penn State officials were accused of not taking appropriate action after being alerted that Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant football coach who still had access to athletic department facilities, was sexually abusing young boys on the Penn State campus. The scandal tainted the late Joe Paterno, who for decades was one of college football’s most prominent coaches. It led to his firing last year along with other top school officials.

The NCAA penalty was another blotch on the legacy of the formerly beloved Paterno, who until last week’s action had held the record for victories among major division U.S. college football coaches in a career that spanned more than 40 seasons. Paterno lost that status since the NCAA’s punishment includes voiding the Nittany Lions’ victories from 1998 – 2011 – the time period covering when Sandusky’s alleged assaults were made known to the administration and Sandusky’s conviction.

Sandusky, 68, was convicted of sexually abusing 10 boys over 15 years. He awaits sentencing and could be given as many as 373 years in prison. This month, former FBI director Louis Freeh released a report that criticized Paterno, who led Penn State to national championships in 1982 and 1986, for his role in protecting Sandusky and the school’s image at the expense of young victims.

Freeh’s report, commissioned by the university’s board of trustees and released on July 12, stated that Paterno and other high-ranking school officials covered up Sandusky’s actions for years while demonstrating a callous disregard for victims. Penn State’s board fired Paterno in November, days after Sandusky was arrested for the abuse. Paterno died in January of lung cancer.

In 2001, graduate assistant Mike McQueary witnessed Sandusky assaulting a boy in the showers at the Penn State athletic complex. McQueary told Paterno. Paterno passed the information on to the Athletic Director Tim Curley, who subsequently talked with then-university Vice President Gary Schultz and university President Graham Spanier. No one went to the police.

NCAA President Mark Emmert said the school had put “hero worship and winning at all costs” ahead of integrity, honesty and responsibility.

The Paterno family said on Monday the NCAA’s actions “defame the legacy and contributions of a great coach and educator without any input from our family or those who knew him best. This is not a fair or thoughtful action; it is a panicked response to the public’s understandable revulsion at what Sandusky did.”

Forum Question of the Week:

Was the NCAA’s decision regarding the penalty handed down to the Penn State program too harsh? Was it an appropriate punishment or was it not strong enough as punishment for years of ignorance or cover-up on the part of Penn State’s administration?

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