Society is outraged at the scandal involving Penn State and the late Joe Paterno. A very ugly situation is now being followed up with reports of a cover-up that may have stretched throughout every level of the administration. Obviously the judicial system has played a prominent role, and Jerry Sandusky is now waiting to hear how long he will be in prison. In addition, should the NCAA step in and impose sanctions on the school? The role of the NCAA is complicated, but ultimately I don't believe it will be terribly effective.
I understand that writing policy is difficult. If you write a rule that is too specific, people will exploit a loophole. However, if the rule is too vague, interpretation can be random at best. In this case, I doubt that the NCAA has something in their regulations that says, "Football coaches should not abuse children, and their employing institution should not cover it up." That is why there is the nebulous rule that talks about "lack of institutional control." You understand the idea, but the NCAA has a history of enforcing this in a very arbitrary way. This is why the NCAA has failed to be effective. They might as well have a rule that says, "Schools should do the right thing, but the NCAA will decide what is right and wrong."
A sports issue?
Is this ultimately a sports issue? If anything, I do understand why the NCAA is a strange spot. Was the Jerry Sandusky situation about football and student-athletes? Certainly he was employed as a coach, and the cover-up was intended to avoid embarrassment for the program and the institution. However, could the NCAA decide that this is more of a legal issue where an employee of a college has committed crimes, rather than a sports issue where a player or coach violates a specific NCAA rule to advance a program? What if Jerry Sandusky had been a staff member in a non-sports department? The crime would be just as heinous, but the relatedness to sports would be much less or non-existent. In this case, the NCAA might decide that this is not an issue of athletic competition. Of course, that might be a decision of convenience that points to the general weakness of the NCAA.
A history of weakness
Unfortunately, the NCAA has shown itself to be a weak organization. Some may throw out the phrase about the presence of smoke and how it points to the existence of fire. The NCAA's attitude over the years seems to be that they will not do anything unless they catch a person with the matches in their hand. Never mind the fact that there are clouds of smoke billowing from institutions like Auburn, Miami and Ohio State. Why is the NCAA weak? The reasons are many, but to use another common phrase, the NCAA doesn't like to bite the hand that feeds. Ultimately, the NCAA may impose some sanctions, but it will not be shocking if they instead wait around for a long period of time and hope that people move on to the next story.
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