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Implications of the NCAA crackdown on Penn State

Photo by Eric Thayer / Reuters

The stench of crime has been associated with PSU ever since the Jerry Sandusky accusations were upheld in court (and for many, long before that). The association of Joe Paterno, legendary coach and inspirational figure, has been one that many people have struggled with. The university tried on Sunday to take pro-active steps to dissociate themselves from a man who may or may not have aided in covering up these heinous crimes. But the NCAA announced on Monday that this wasn’t enough. Not even close.

The things that Sandusky has been found guilty of are undeniably horrible. No one disputes that. The University and its figureheads, according to Louis Freeh's report, did not do enough to stop these crimes. And now, the NCAA is taking unprecedented—and, some say, illegal—action to punish both the athletic program as well as the university as a whole.

So now the question becomes: Is the NCAA in the right here? Jerry Sandusky has been found guilty in a court of law, and Penn State has been found guilty in the court of popular opinion. But where is the overlap between the two and what does the NCAA have to do with either of those two things? The NCAA bills itself as "founded ... to protect young people from ... dangerous and exploitive athletics practices." The young men who were taken advantage of at Penn State were clearly in danger and were clearly exploited. Of this, there can be no doubt.

The rumors before the fines and sanctions were officially announced put the monetary figure in excess of $30 million. Now, we see that the reality is twice that amount, plus an unprecedented number of wins that are being vacated—dropping Joe Pa from first all time in coaching wins to twelfth. Yet, despite universal recognition that there were terrible occurrences at Penn State, there has been an almost-instantaneous claim that, perhaps, the NCAA has ovverreached.

The money the NCAA is fining Penn State will go to an external program—or more than one program—that focuses on sexual abuse or assisting victims of sexual abuse. The total is said to have been determined by one year's revenue from the football program, which will be handicapped for the next four years, including loss of scholarships and bowl ineligibility. The athletic department, finally, will be on probation for five years.

All of these consequences seem to send a clear message from the NCAA—that it believes there was wrongdoing at Penn State. And there is little doubt in most peoples' minds that there was. But by taking this unprecedented step—and here we are not specifically addressing the money, the wins or the handicapping, but rather the new jurisdiction that the NCAA believes itself entitled to—we are entering into a new era, one where the governing body of athletics and academics might have tremendous power in not only those two fields, but also over colleges and universities as a whole.