Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Penn State Post Mortem Round Up

Big day today. Blog Duke of Glocester Mike had the initial reaction today and made some very good points about a private entity handcuffing a public body. Here's some more writers I liked today.

1) Dave Zirin spent most of yesterday preparing to be angry, and his column today doesn't disappoint. Particularly useful is his discussion of the NCAA's move into criminal law- the only real "unprecedented" thing in this situation.

2) Drew Magary excoriates the NCAA for brand management disguised as protecting its values.

3) Travis Waldron reminds us that Penn State did this because of a reverence for football- a reverence the NCAA has encouraged for years.

4) The Hang Up and Listen guys are dismissive of the "extra-legal" concerns- but are also very skeptical that the NCAA will take any other action to rein in runaway football programs.

5) For my part: Penn State deserved to be punished. I was nervous about collective punishment, but I also didn't know how you successfully targeted the program without hurting students, athletes, or other low-men-on-the-totem-pole (hot dog vendors and such). I was also nervous about scapegoating; Penn State was, as we've said before, kind of a symptom of college football's larger problems, and we can't act like punishing it solves those problems. But: Penn State did screw up, horribly so. And I've got no problem in making it account for that.

I'm concerned that the NCAA was the wrong body to do it. Like Mike said, it's hinky for a private entity to handcuff a public body. Like Waldron said, the NCAA is morally complicit here. Plus, the NCAA had to abandon its usual rules and procedures to get here. And I can't shake the feeling that continued criminal action would have been much better targeted. But, Mike's point about the NCAA's moral obligation is well-taken; I think I would have been satisfied with NCAA action so long as it had followed its normal procedures. As it stands, though, I'm uncomfortable.

Then, there's the fact that I'm pretty unimpressed with the punishment. The money is the eye-catching thing, but the alumni and boosters will ride to the rescue there. The postseason probably wasn't a factor for a few years anyway, and the loss of prestige will be forgotten as soon as Penn State posts a winning record and ESPN trips over itself to tell the story of Penn State' return to honor. Vacating wins? Just silly. Scholarships hurt, but it's the exact kind of hurt that football programs usually pass on to the students. Meanwhile, this is still collective punishment, the very thing I was worried about, and the NCAA's mandate that athletes be given free transfers- while entirely necessary- is going to set off an ugly recruiting derby that's going to remind you of every thing you hate about college football- as if you needed another reminder here.

So, it's kinda like the NCAA gave us the worst of both worlds- it assumed too much power to deliver too little punishment, and preserved all the worst impulses of the sport in the process.

1 comment:

  1. Ultimately though, I felt they should have done something, I'm glad they did something, and I am hard pressed to think of what they could have done better.

    Granted, I think this is a situation where "Monday morning quarterbacking" and "hindsight is 20/20" defenses don't hold up. The reason we raise those defenses in sports is that game-time decisions are made in a context of split second decision making. They don't have the same luxury of reflection that we do in the aftermath. That isn't the case here. The NCAA has had months to look at this situation, and had the option to spend even more time (had they followed normal procedure) to craft a better suited punishment. So if anyone can think of a better one, then it IS a fair question to put to the NCAA of why they didn't use that punishment.

    On the other hand, and I'm not exonerating myself on this, I think there could also be a bit of professional self-serving here among sports-writers. In the same way that "X didn't win, Y lost" analysis cropped up, if a sports writer comes in and just unequivocally supports the NCAA's reaction, they aren't necessarily saying anything we don't already feel or know. There may be an impulse among pundits to be contrarian for ratings purposes. Criticizing is easy and it sells, and grousing about what went wrong may be mistaken for a courageous stance just because it puts you in the minority.

    Notwithstanding everything I already said about the public/private distinction, there's also a concern here about the unique legal status afforded to universities and college sports in this country. Many of these institutions are publicly funded, but yet are allowed to participate in a profit generating exercise like college football. College football itself has become a de factor minor league for professional football, and done so in such a way that young athletes are restricted in the way they market their talents. They can't go straight from high school to the pros, they are required to wait a few years in a country where they only place they can go to keep their skills current is an unpaid labor mill that runs a risk of injury. There is only one pro-league that is exempt from anti-trust, and that league basically says "you have to go to college and play there for a few years first, making no money while your labor earns other people billions." Congress has stood by and allowed this system to expand and perpetuate without ever setting rules or boundaries. As much as the NCAA has become this quasi-legal monstrosity, it's also uniquely situated to address this issue as a result of the weird legal niche universities have carved for themselves as marketers of sports as paid entertainment.

    I also fundamentally disagree with the charge being leveled by many that we should only punish individuals and not the university. That principle was abandoned over a century ago in civil courts under respondeat superior. When BP's oil well failed in the gulf, most people didn't think this was a situation where we should be upset with the engineers and executives only, but that the company should be held responsible, even if that hurt stockholders. When the Valdez spilled oil all over Alaskan shores, we didn't send the captain by himself out there to clean it up, Exxon had to take some responsibility. When malfeasance reaches all the way up to the President of an institution, it IS institutional action, because at that point you can no longer separate the two, and the institution itself has a legacy and an inertia and a way of putting pressure on even its own executives to act in such a way that won't financially damage the institution.