Those in the know at Penn State are relieved that the university escaped the death penalty for its football program which could, and should, have been imposed by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) for the cover-up of child sex abuse.
The $60 million contribution Penn State pays to the NCAA to fund national child abuse prevention programs is equal to Penn State’s direct revenue from football for one single year. The erasure of Penn State’s football victories from 1998 through 2011 mainly affects the legacy of its now dismissed, discredited, disowned and deceased former head coach Joe Paterno.
Penn State willingly embraced these penalties and others, including temporary ineligibility for bowl games and loss of football scholarships, because it knows a good deal when it sees one. Its football program will continue through a period of rebuilding, as all programs periodically must, with the hope and expectation of soon re-emerging as the dominant cultural life force in the Happy Valley.
The NCAA loves to slap around non-revenue member schools like Cal Tech for technical rules violations. It once imposed a death penalty on the football program at Southern Methodist for impermissible benefits to players. Top-tier football programs get treated differently. Ohio State suffered a year of bowl ineligibility and temporary loss of some scholarships for impermissible benefits to players. And now Penn State has been allowed to negotiate its own penalties for protecting its football program by having, as the Freeh report found, “failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children” sexually assaulted by a Penn State assistant coach.
Yes, it might have been a hassle to impose the death penalty on Penn State, which could have resisted and claimed and been entitled to due process. More importantly, a death penalty on Penn State would have resulted in significant revenue loss to other NCAA member schools for forfeiture of already scheduled games. We certainly don’t want that to happen!
And what about all the innocent adults who would be harmed by a death penalty? There are no innocent adults among the Penn State students, alumni, faculty, and merchants who promoted and profited from the football culture that nurtured and protected a predator who preyed on children. There are only enablers.
Both Penn State and the NCAA are out there promoting the completely false notion that the penalties imposed are somehow worse than the death penalty. And if that’s true, can everyone just move along? Nothing more to see here.
But it’s not true, and Penn State football survives to play another day. Shockingly, they will play this year according to their pre-arranged game schedule, as if nothing had happened. Meanwhile the child sex abuse victims that Penn State deliberately chose to ignore in order to protect the football program are on their own to seek justice for what Penn State allowed to be done to them.
Jan Ting is a Professor of Law at Temple University’s Beasley School of Law and a former Assistant Commissioner for Refugees, Asylum and Parole, Immigration and Naturalization Service, U.S. Department of Justice. Jan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This column has been edited by the author. Representations of fact and opinions are solely those of the author.