Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The State of Pennsylvania needs to prevail against the NCAA

image Wednesday, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett announced that his state would file a federal lawsuit against the NCAA over the heavy sanctions the league handed down to Penn State University in the wake of last year’s Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal.

We need the state to prevail in that case.

Forget about any emotional reaction you have. Forget about whether or not you think the school deserved to be so heavily punished after such a horrifying and saddening scandal. This isn’t about justice at all. This is about a massive power grab by a bureaucracy that has grown out of control.

When NCAA President Mark Emmert bypassed the Committee on Infractions and handed down scholarship losses, a $60 million fine and a four year bowl ban, I wrote that he had created a troubling precedent.

Here’s the real treachery in the waters that lie ahead, sports fans: With this new process in place, member schools finding themselves in impossible public relations situations regarding potential rules violations now have a way of completely bypassing the Committee on Infractions and negotiating terms of plea agreements directly with the President.

North Carolina? Oregon? Miami? Are you paying attention? You can now avoid the lengthy, embarrassing and costly NCAA enforcement process by petitioning the NCAA Executive Committee to authorize the President to cut you a deal. No Notice of Allegations to publicize. No perp walk into the Committee on Infractions hearing. No months long wait to learn your fate. No public shame in having the Committee Chairman blast you in a public news conference for such a “shocking” disregard for the rules.

Simply get a deal cut in a matter of days, have the President hold a 3:00 minute news conference and you’re done.

This blog has long complained about the arbitrary and chaotic process that the NCAA uses to mete out punishment. There seems to be no logic, rhyme or reason in comparing cases of similar nature and handing out similar penalties. Granted, the Penn State case is totally unprecedented in its scale and horror, but do we really need an even more arbitrary process in place?

The answer is an unequivocal “NO.”

Pennsylvania will rightly argue that the NCAA used its sports governance authority to punish a member school for a scandal that had nothing to do with sports. That Jerry Sandusky was an assistant football coach and that his abuse occurred at football facilities and events is incidental to the fact that it was a criminal and civil torts matter. It’s to be settled in courts of justice, where the litigants are required by law to play by long established and clearly articulated rules.

The NCAA doesn’t like to fight battles in arenas where it doesn’t make the rules. Nor does it like to fight in situations where it can ignore the rules and do whatever the hell it wants to. The NCAA doesn’t care about the rule of law.

Put it this way—if the NCAA can punish the Penn State football program for Jerry Sandusky’s crimes, then it can publish any school for damned near anything it wants to. If Alabama doesn’t enforce underage drinking rules, the NCAA can fine the basketball program if one of the coaches happens to give a minor a bottle of whiskey. Or, it can punish Baylor when student-athletes are involved in drug rings. Or, let your imagination run wild because know this:

Grant any bureaucracy any additional power and regardless of how unlikely you view the outcome, that bureaucracy will eventually exercise it.

The NCAA absolutely must abide by its own rules. It absolutely must not be allowed to arbitrarily and capriciously mete out punishment just because the media and a vocal public demand that they “do something” in high profile scandals like this.

The only entity that can force the NCAA to back down and play in bounds is the United States justice system, and the only player with sufficient standing and resources to see that battle through is a sovereign state.

Pennsylvania absolutely MUST prevail.

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