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The NCAA's Sanctions Against Penn State Football


And they came down hard. Earlier this morning, NCAA President Mark Emmert and Oregon State President Ed Ray (in his role as chair of the NCAA's Executive Committee) announced a set of sanctions (pdf) unprecedented in scale and in method of imposition against Penn State's football program in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child rape investigation and trial.

  • A $60 million fine, payable by Penn State over a 5-year period into an endowment fund charged with supporting programs that prevent child sexual abuse and/or help the victims of such abuse. In addition, the Big 10 conference will divert Penn State's share of the conference's bowl revenue over the next 4 years, approximately $13 million, to charities with a similar aim.
  • A 4-year postseason ban, which begins this season, and runs through the 2015 season.
  • A reduction of 80 football scholarships over 4 years, allowing Penn State football a total of 65 scholarship players/year from the 2013 season (2013-14 academic year) through the 2016 season (2016-17 academic year). Penn State will be able to bring in up to 15 freshman/transfer football student-athletes in each of those years.
  • 5-years of NCAA Probation
  • The vacation of all Penn State football victories from 1998-2011. This applies both to the Penn State records and to the personal record of Joe Paterno.

All of Penn State's football student-athletes, incoming freshmen/transfers as well as returning players are immediately free to transfer to any other D-1 school without the normal 1-year period of competitive ineligibility. SI is reporting that the NCAA is considering granting waivers to schools taking Penn State transfers allowing them to exceed the normal 85-scholarship limit for Football. The scale of the competitive disadvantage that Penn State football now finds itself will take some time to fully comprehend, but I think it is safe to say that as a result of these sanctions, Penn State will not be a significant force in the college football world or in its conference for the remainder of this decade.

Penn State has accepted the NCAA's sanctions, and will not appeal. Plenty more on the sanctions after the jump.

The heinous acts committed by Jerry Sandusky and the ability of his victims to hopefully live a normal life should be the primary focus of everyone involved, while the severity of the sanctions imposed on Penn State by the NCAA will rule this particular day. In addition to the sanctions themselves, the major story of this enforcement action is in the manner of imposition. Those of you around for Southern Cal's last date with the NCAA should be roughly familiar with the normal enforcement and sanctioning process.

Today was the first example of something different. The NCAA's Executive Committee - composed of a number of university presidents - empowered NCAA President Emmert to impose sanctions on Penn State outside of the normal procedures as laid out in the NCAA Bylaws (pdf). It is the first time that the committee or other NCAA body has allowed a President to wield this type of power. The committee enabled this action under NCAA Bylaw 4.1.2(e), which empowers the Executive Committee to act on behalf of the NCAA membership as a whole by "adopting and implementing policies to resolve core issues and other Association-wide matters".

The NCAA accepted the findings of the Freeh Report in establishing the scope of violations and of the resulting sanctions, as well as drawing upon evidence gathered as a result of the Sandusky criminal trial. In drawing together the information gathered by these investigations, the NCAA found that "leadership failures at Penn State over an extended period of time directly violated Association bylaws and the NCAA Constitution relating to control over the athletic department, integrity and ethical conduct."

The specific violations can be found in the consent decree which imposes the sanctions. The actions (and omissions) that underpin the sanctions involve the concealment of Sandusky's acts by Spanier, Schultz, Curley and Paterno from the university Board of Trustees and from legal authorities, which allowed Sandusky to prey upon further victims; and lack of oversight by the Board of Trustees over these officers and employees of Penn State. While the acts of Sandusky against his victims are of course the real crimes (but not necessarily the only criminal conduct) coming out of this series of events, the NCAA's sanctions are based upon the university's cover-up of evidence against Sandusky and suspicions about him. The cover-up, rather than the base crime is why Penn State is where it finds itself today.


This is not the first time that serious acts of violence have been perpetrated by a member of one of a university's athletic programs. Defenders of Penn State as well as random members of the media (and their sources) haveraised some of the prior acts in attempts to delegitimize the NCAA's action today - contrasted with the level of punishment, if any in those prior cases - while ignoring the unique role of Penn State's main administration in covering up the crimes.

In 2010, University of Virginia student-athlete Yeardley Love was brutally murdered by her ex-boyfriend, a member of the Lacrosse team. The convicted perpetrator did have some issues with violence and his temper during high school - which his family was able to smooth over as he was being recruited by many of the east coast lacrosse powers. The athletic department and university were cooperative with the criminal investigation while the thoughts and sympathy of the UVa community - myself included - was solidly with the family of Ms. Love.

The other major event of violence surrounding a collegiate athletic program was the 2003 murder of Patrick Dennehy, a Baylor basketball player. Dennehy was murdered by one of his teammates; Baylor's head coach, Dave Bliss, having committed a series of acts constituting major NCAA violations during his time there - including paying the murdered player - on several occasions tried to convince the players and assistant coaches to frame the murder victim as a drug-dealing scumbag in order to keep the NCAA off of his own back. The attempt failed, in part after one of his assistants, Abar Rouse, recorded some of those meetings and passed the tapes to the NCAA.

The NCAA came down hard on Baylor, for the violations committed by Bliss as well as the attempted cover-up following Dennehy's murder. While the university was cooperative with the NCAA and forced the resignation of Bliss and the school's Athletic Director, the NCAA cancelled one year's worth of non-conference games, imposed a 7-year period of probation on the Basketball program, 3 years of recruiting limitations and a scholarship reduction over 2 years. This was for a series of events where the wrongdoing did not spread beyond the head coach, and where the athletic department and university cooperated with the investigation and accepted responsibility. For his trouble, Coach Rouse has been blackballed from coaching; the justifications given by figures like Coach K for the treatment of the closest thing to a hero to come out of that set of events serving to confirm my low regard for Ratface.


Typically, an NCAA investigation and enforcement action occurs when a rogue actor corrupts an athletic program, or when a coach or student-athlete otherwise takes a benefit or unfair competitive advantage. Here, the reality is that the offenses of a rogue actor associated with the football program spread to corrupt the highest reaches of a major university. While this was not an eventuality forseen by the drafters of the NCAA Bylaws, the effect of this type of systemic corruption on college athletics - and on the colleges themselves - is far worse than that of a coach making his players practice a few extra hours, or a booster being too generous with her wealth. It strikes at the very credibility of the system and the soul of the institution.

The point of the sanctions against and criticism of Penn State is not simply that a series of horrible criminal acts occurred on campus - but that a member of the football team and athletic program, a faculty emeritus, but one retaining and taking advantage of power and access to the university - was free to commit the most vile of criminal acts under the protection of several of the most powerful men at Penn State. The Vietnam/Watergate-era Bruins here should be particularly familiar with the idea that the cover-up is worse than the crime. That idea is the ultimate basis for the NCAA action today, and for the public ire directed at Penn State and several of its former employees over the past months.