John Clay: NCAA got it right against Penn State

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistJuly 23, 2012 

This is child molestation we're talking about.

This isn't about a rogue assistant coach buying a prospect a new car or a booster slipping an athlete money under the table or any other "extra benefit" rules violation the NCAA normally deals with when punishing one of its own.

In its grotesque bottom line, the Penn State scandal was about a now-convicted serial child molester who worked on the school's payroll.

Inside the realm of college athletics, however, the Penn State scandal was about a school concealing important information so that its football program would not be at a competitive disadvantage.

That screamed out for NCAA action, and Monday morning, NCAA president Mark Emmert got it right, and then some.

A five-year probation. A four-year bowl ban. Incoming scholarship reductions of 10 per year over the next four years with a total football scholarship cap of 20 below the prescribed limit of 85 over that period. A staggering $60 million fine. The vacating of all football victories from 1998 through 2011. Those were the sanctions. Crippling and fitting.

Even more effective was Emmert's impressive press conference, televised from Indianapolis, where the president took on all questions and made his case in a strong, no-nonsense manner. He said the Freeh report and the information gathered from Jerry Sandusky's criminal trial were more extensive than any previous NCAA investigation. He said these were "very distinct and very unique" circumstances that called for a punitive response.

He also laid out a series of actions that does what the NCAA should be doing more of — helping the so-called student athletes. If they choose, current Penn State players can transfer to other institutions and be eligible immediately. The NCAA said it also would consider granting scholarship limit exemptions to schools that accept Penn State transfers. And for those current Penn State players who might want to give up football entirely and remain in school to complete their degrees, they will remain on scholarship for as long as they remain academically eligible.

Some worry about the implications of Emmert's unprecedented action. There was no NCAA investigation, no corrections hearing. Some argue that this was outside the NCAA's jurisdiction.

The NCAA is not a court of law or a police state, however. It's an association much like a fraternal organization or a country club. It's made up of members who can punish or expel at will, as long as it does not violate any state or federal laws.

And if this is new territory for the NCAA, it's a welcome expansion. Those close to Emmert say the president has been frustrated by the red-tape ways of the NCAA. This time, under these special circumstances, he convinced the executive committee it could not abide the usual maddeningly slow process. Action needed to be taken swiftly and effectively.

Good for him. Give me a sports commissioner who falls closer to the NFL's Roger Goodell than to, say, a sport like horse racing, where no one is in charge and very little gets done — until it's too late.

And here are the words of another effective commissioner, the SEC's Mike Slive: "College athletics has lost the benefit of the doubt."

If the NCAA really wants to change the culture of college athletics, it needs to levy more strong penalties like the one delivered Monday, not less. It needs to get away from, as Emmert put it, the notion that some athletic programs are not only too big to fail but too big to challenge.

Think about it: Penn State covered up accusations of child molestation to protect the reputation of its football program.

This is child molestation we're talking about.

For the NCAA to do nothing, well, that's what Penn State did.

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Email: jclay@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv. Blog: Johnclay.bloginky.com.

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