The NCAA, that most sanctimonious of powerful bureaucracies, has punished Penn State because its top officials failed to take action after receiving credible evidence Jerry Sandusky, an assistant football coach, had engaged in child molestation. The penalties include a $60 million fine, a four-year ban on bowl appearances, and the forfeiture of all football victories since 1998.
I have no sympathy for Penn State and no serious beef with the forward-looking penalties. But the attempt to re-write the past by expunging Penn State’s victories deserves ridicule.
It is always a bit absurd when “suits” attempt to legislate hard-won sports triumphs out of existence. You can’t tell me that, for example, standout running backs Larry Johnson and Evan Royster never helped Penn State win a football game; I saw them do it with my own eyes.
Nonetheless, when a team gains an unfair advantage by violating NCAA rules, I can understand sanctions that include re-writing the record book. For example, a team coached by major violator of the rules on recruiting players may not have enjoyed the success it achieved had the rules been followed. Thus, you can at least see the logic of pretending that the wins didn’t happen.
But Penn State achieved no apparent on-the-field advantage from Sandusky’s misconduct or from its failure to address it. As I understand it, Sandusky didn’t even serve as a coach after 1999. Therefore, purporting to take away the team’s victories just seems silly.
Then again, the NCAA might be on to something. As president, Richard Nixon and his top staffers covered up serious wrongdoing. Perhaps the entire Nixon presidency should be forfeited. We could give George McGovern a “W” in the 1972 presidential election and then “forfeit” the recognition of Red China and the SALT I arms control agreement.
It’s also possible that at some future date, we will learn that the NCAA itself engaged in or covered up serious wrongdoing. In that event, it could be made to “forfeit” all of the forfeitures it imposed. Penn State’s wins could magically reappear in the record book, along with a couple of John Calipari Final Four appearances.
The possibilities are endless once bureaucrats claim the power to override reality.
UPDATE: Bill Otis at Crime and Consequences argues that the NCAA should not have sanctioned Penn State at all.