The NCAA is a terrible governing organization. Their policies and decisions, like refusing to pay players so much as a stipend (never mind a cut of what their programs produce for their universities), often range from nonsensical to downright wrong. It’s almost a universally accepted opinion that the NCAA is, in the nicest way possible, a joke. For god’s sake, they suspended Johnny Manziel for a single half.
But in what seems like the first time in recent memory, I can finally agree with something the NCAA has done. On Tuesday, NCAA president Mark Emmert announced the scaling back of certain restrictions on Penn State’s football scholarships. The widely covered Jerry Sandusky scandal of 2011 ended with forever-ruined reputations for all guilty parties, but the NCAA overreached in reaction to the atrocities that occurred under Joe Paterno’s and former Penn State president Graham Spanier’s watch.
Over a year ago in July 2012, the NCAA released the initial punishments for the Penn State football programs. They included a $60 million fine to be paid over five years, a four year ban from postseason bowl games, the removal of 112 wins from the record books from 1998-2011, five-year probation, and a reduction in scholarships.
Of course, the fine was a hefty penalty. The ban from bowl games hurt’s the Nittany Lions’ recruiting pitch now and for the next years; after all, who wants to go to a school where no matter your record, you can’t play in the big game. The wiping away of wins is a more iffy decision. They can’t wipe away the memories of those games, but they did symbolically knock Paterno from the top of the all-time coaching wins list.
The consensus was, however, that the sanctions on scholarships would have the most impact. They included ten first-year scholarships being taken away (25 to 15) for four years starting this upcoming season and a drop in total scholarships to 65 from 85 for four years starting in 2014-15.
But after yesterday’s teleconference, Penn State will now return to a full complement of its 25 initial scholarships in just two more years (they’ll add five a year) and will only have to serve two years of the four-year drop in total scholarships. It might take a minute to understand, but just know that the NCAA cut the scholarship punishment in half.
I applaud this step. The elephant in the room when the NCAA hit the Penn State football program hard was that this would affect players and coaches who were in no way culpable for what happened. By then, Paterno had died and Sandusky had been sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison. Those lost scholarships had the effect of delivering collateral damage to players who would not otherwise have had a way for paying for college, not only just hurting Penn State football. The reasoning behind this change of heart is Penn State’s strong push for internal change and accountability.
The NCAA still has a ways to go to repair its own reputation and some would say they may never be able to. Its penchant for ad hoc decisions that seem to favor some over others needs to be changed. But for once, they’ve made a good choice. Just don’t expect this to be frequent.