Claremore Daily Progress

July 24, 2012

HORNING: NCAA didn't seem right until it acted

The Norman Transcript

DALLAS — You want to believe in what NCAA president Mark Emmert announced Monday. You want to believe it because it seems to help.

Because Jerry Sandusky’s reign of terror, perpetrated by one man, received cover from many men; one of them, the until-Monday all-time winningest football coach in NCAA history, another one the athletic director, another a school vice president and still another, if you believe the Freeh Report, the since-fired university president.

It seems about right.

It seems right that Penn State pay a $60 million fine, which Emmert said was about a year’s worth of the football program’s revenue.

And it seems right that the Nittany Lions shall not play any bowl games nor Big 10 championship games for no less than four years and it seems right 10 scholarships of an annually allotted 25 be stricken for four years.

And, a nod to the student athletes who deserve better than to be trapped on a sinking ship, it seems right they be allowed to transfer without losing eligibility and without having to wait to play for their new school.

There is a clever perfection to it.

It is not the death penalty leveled at SMU. Some say it’s worse, yet on its face it clearly isn’t, because you know who gets along with 63 scholarships for their entire program? Every team in the Football Championship Series, and some of those teams are plenty dangerous. Ask Michigan, which lost its 2007 opener to Appalachian State.

If Penn State can retain most of its current players and award 15 scholarships each of the next four years, it might well keep 60 to 65 scholarship athletes in the program. And that’s enough. Enough to remain competitive and enough to not fall off the face of the earth.

But it is falling off the face of earth. Because many are bound to leave, and who’s going to want to go to Penn State now? Who’s going to want to be associated with such horrible history? Who wants to be stained?

There’s a rightness to it. If Penn State is to be avoided, it will be avoided not because of sanction, but because of what it did and didn’t do, all the way to the top.

The NCAA’s hands appear clean because Penn State’s are so dirty.

* * *

But are they really?

Can pure motives override jurisdictional murkiness? Is the slope not slippery?

No more monsters may roam the sideline, but is it so hard to believe another program might become bigger than the university it represents? Are some not bigger now?

And if caught in an institutional cover-up of an academic scandal, a sex scandal involving consenting adults or a coach’s run-in with the law, will there not be some who say it’s just like Penn State, and will they not be partially right?

That’s the crux.

An athletic program became bigger than its school. The NCAA, led by Emmert and its executive committee of university presidents, felt it had to act.

Are they right?

That such a culture allowed Sandusky to operate is reprehensible, appalling and criminal. Still, that such a culture exists may be yesterday’s news.

Perhaps not at Oklahoma.

“I’ve always been very aware (that) I work for the university … University’s are always going to be bigger than any of us,” Bob Stoops said.

But you wonder what Nick Saban could get away with at Alabama, you understand what Jim Tressell attempted to get away with at Ohio State and we’re all aware of the shenanigans that ran rampant not so long ago, before compliance departments, when not cheating meant not getting caught.

A Pandora’s box?

The door is open.

That, and the NCAA can be hard to take seriously.

Following is Emmert’s Monday mission statement.

“What we can do is impose sanctions that reflect the magnitude of these terrible acts and that also will ensure that Penn State rebuild an athletic culture that went horribly awry,” he said. “Our goal is not to be just punitive, but to make sure the university establishes a culture and daily mindset in which football will never again be placed ahead of educating, nurturing and protecting young people.”

But isn’t this one for the DA and not the NCAA? Culture building sounds like collegiate nation building. And just when did the NCAA get into the nurturing business?

It sounds too hokey to be true.

* * *

But it felt good.

All the way down to the wins taken off Paterno’s table.

We always say you can’t take wins off the table, but this feels like they’re off. Bobby Bowden’s the new king of coaches with 377 victories and just who’s going to say they’ve got the wrong guy, because Bowden is no Barry Bonds and Paterno sure as heck is no Hammerin’ Hank.

Only Sunday, the thought was different.

When word came down that word was coming down, it was slow dread.

It was so clear these are not the things the NCAA was designed to oversee. There are athletic crimes and there are real-world-make-you-want-to-throw-up crimes and the NCAA is supposed to be about catching Brian Bosworth, not Son of Sam.

What’s to be accomplished?

As for due process issues, Penn State took care of that when new university president Rodney Erickson signed a consent decree, stipulating to the school’s bad deeds and promising not to challenge NCAA punishment.

At Big 12 media days, it was a topic, but not a popular one.

“The whole situation is just incredibly tragic,” Stoops said, but he steered clear of all minefields, adding that his “expertise is just in coaching football.”

Conference commissioner Bob Bowlsby was surprised by the timetable — “Acting quickly and the NCAA are seldom mentioned in the same sentence,” he said — but he could have gone further. He could have announced Big 12 support for the NCAA’s historic stand.

Perhaps today.

Because even if the Penn State ball seemed clear of the NCAA’s court prior to Monday, it didn’t seem like it any more once Emmert was done talking.

Because this, not the Freeh Report … and this, not Paterno’s statue coming down … and this, not even future guilty verdicts, is a response. Symbolism be damned, it’s the real thing.

Sometimes, even when it doesn’t have to be your problem, you must nonetheless make it your problem simply because you’re in a position to act and action is required.

In the face of the evil Jerry Sandusky was allowed to perpetrate, which could not have continued without institutional interference, the NCAA acted.

It’s unprecedented.

Unintended consequences may arise.

It couldn’t be more right.