Forfeit this, NCAA

We have written from time to time about various aspects of the Penn State child molestation scandal invovling one-time assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. Our focus has been on the aftermath of that scandal, specifically the rush to judgment against coach Joe Paterno and the overly harsh penalities levied against the Penn State football program by the NCAA.

That the NCAA overreached in penalizing Penn State is now evident from its internal discussions. Emails obtained in litigation show that NCAA officials doubted their authority to sanction Penn State at all. The NCAA was relying not on its legitimate authority, but rather on its correct perception that Penn State was “so embarrassed [it] will do anything.”

Ten days before the sanctions were announced, Julie Roe, NCAA Vice President of Enforcement, wrote: “We could try to assert jurisdiction on this issue and may be successful but it’d be a stretch.” Roe went on to characterize the NCAA’s approach to Penn State as “a bluff.”

Bluffing one’s members into acceding to severe penalties you don’t beleive you have authority to impose is rather unprincipled. But the NCAA’s governing principle seems to be: kick members when they are down in order to make yourself look good.

The NCAA based its sanctions against Penn State on the notion that the football team had gained an advantage in recruiting football players due to the fact that Sandusky’s criminal behavior did not come to light sooner. But the internal emails show that key NCAA officials doubted that this was the case. (Sandusky was no longer an assistant coach at the time the allegations against him might have, but did not, come to light).

The NCAA’s assault on Penn State is far from the only example of that outfit’s overreach. Sally Jenkins notes that the NCAA has ordered University of Georia running back Todd Gurley to perform 40 hours of community service for selling his autograph.

According to Jenkins, nothing in the NCAA’s rules authorizes it to impose what is normally a criminal sanction. I’d love to see the internal email traffic on this one.

Meanwhile, as Jenkins observes, the NCAA has exhibited “total paralysis” in a case that clearly falls within its jurisdiction — the broad, years-long academic scandal at the University of North Carolina. This scandal, which I view as much more than just an athletic one, involved scores of athletes being kept academically eligible through fake classes, often in African-American studies.

In my post about the NCAA’s decision to connvert Penn State football victories into forfeits, I suggested that at some point we might learn that the NCAA has engaged in cover-ups or other serious wrongdoing. In that event, I wondered tongue in cheek, shouldn’t the NCAA be required to forfeit all of its previous forfeiture penalties?

Having reached this point, the better solution is, as Jenkins advocates, that the NCAA forfeit its existence.

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