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Friday April 25 2014
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No Time for Fairness

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It’s interesting that NOW there is outrage in State College about actions that are “unfair to the kids.” The harsh NCAA sanctions against the Penn State football program are indeed unfair to the student-athletes.

They had absolutely nothing to do with Jerry Sandusky’s crimes or the massive, 14-year-long cover-up perpetrated by those in charge of the university. The sanctions are extremely unfair.


But that’s the nature of punishment – it is often unfair; the innocent often get swept up in its’ negative impact.


A father of two commits a crime and is sent to prison – not fair to those left behind, is it? The president of a company fails to pay taxes on hidden income and loses his business – not fair to those who worked an honest job for an honest wage, and are left with no wage and no job. And when the leaders of a public institution commit crimes in order to maintain their competitive football advantage—and those who had nothing to do with it are among the punished—it is not fair at all.


The NCAA—though a flawed institution—is not to blame for the resulting punishment. Louis Freeh is not to blame. The media is not to blame. Penn State’s long-time leadership bears the responsibility.


It is that leadership that failed the student-athletes, the university, the community and most of all, of course, the children they so callously decided not to protect. History is littered with similar examples of individuals whose failures have toppled entire organizations.


In addition, perspective is needed when judging the fairness of these penalties as they relate to the student-athletes. No current athlete will lose a scholarship, nor is NCAA taking away the ability of high school athletes to earn athletic scholarships. Simply, over the next four years, not as many high school football players will be able to use their skills to benefit Penn State's program.


No Penn State football player will lose the privilege—it’s not a right, by the way—to play the game of football. If they choose to remain in Happy Valley, they will still play 12 football games every fall, and they will presumably continue to play in front of 110,000 people. They will continue to get a free education in exchange for their ability to play a sport.


True, many of the games won’t mean as much… but isn’t that the point? College football games are not supposed to mean this much.


Penn State is clearly not the only university where football has meant more than it should—the NCAA shares blame for creating that atmosphere—but they are certainly the most egregious example of putting football above all else.


Moreover, the unnamed university trustee who complained to the media that Penn State’s current leadership “rolled over and played dead” to the NCAA in this case is a bright neon sign blinking a dangerous message from within the university:


NOTHING HAS CHANGED.


Misplaced blame, absence of personal responsibility, complete and utter lack of intestinal fortitude – these are the very reasons the tragedy occurred. “Rolled over and played dead” is precisely what Penn State’s old leadership did for 14 years.


Thankfully, Penn State president Rodney Erickson, athletic director Dave Joyner, head coach Bill O’Brien and the football players themselves have acted like adults. They have accepted the punishment as just, and embraced their collective responsibility. Their words and actions have been promising thus far, and while their work is only beginning and will no doubt get more difficult as the months and years go by, it seems as if the right people are finally in place to steer Penn State through what promises to be a difficult time.


Does that make this a fair ending for Penn State?


Maybe. Maybe not.


But since when has fairness had anything to do with this?

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