NCAA doesn’t exonerate Joe Paterno, it cuts a business deal to end a lawsuit

Some Penn State football fans are acting as if they won the national championship.

That’s the reaction I read in the quotes I’ve culled from news articles about the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) settlement of the lawsuit filed by Pennsylvania State Senator Jake Corman to overturn the heavy fines the NCAA placed on Penn State University for looking the other way while assistant coach and pervert Jerry Sandusky sexually abused a large number of boys.

Here is a sprinkling of what is being said (names omitted):

  • “Today is a victory for the people of Pennsylvania….The NCAA has surrendered.”
  • “This is significant.…This was a beat down on the NCAA, it really was.”
  • [Mr. Paterno’s reputation has been restored] “to a large degree.”
  • “I’m happy this wrong has been righted.”
  • “Vindication is Penn State’s. Vindication is Joe Paterno’s.  And the bullying NCAA walks away from its worst hour in utter disgrace.”

Except that’s not what happened. No matter what the extreme Penn State fans and sports pundits may want to think, the NCAA did not capitulate. It has not been disgraced It did not suffer a beat down.

What the NCAA did was settle an expensive lawsuit that could have dragged on for years. By settling, the NCAA makes sure that the $60 million it collected as a fine for Penn State’s role in facilitating Sandusky’s crimes goes to fight child abuse victims in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  Otherwise, a lot of the money would have been spent on lawyers. In the news release the NCAA issued about the deal, Harris Pastides, University of South Carolina president and member of the NCAA Board of Governors put it well, “While others will focus on the return of wins, our top priority is on protecting, educating and nurturing young people.” As well it should be.

The NCAA made a business deal that was in the best interest of the organization and society. It did not admit that it made a mistake to vacate victories, nor that it overreached in its punishment.  “Today’s agreement with Penn State reaffirms our authority to act,” said Kirk Schulz, Kansas State University president and member of the NCAA Board of Governors, who also spoke for the organization.  The NCAA news release about the settlement went out of its way to mention that Penn State had cleaned up its act and thus deserved reconsideration. The implication is that the NCAA is still in charge.

The news reporting has focused on the fact that the NCAA gave Joe Paterno back the 111 Penn State victories the NCAA had vacated because they came after Paterno first learned that a key assistant was sexually assaulting young boys.

Also untrue.

The victories were not given back to Joe Paterno, but to Penn State. While the punishment was appropriate at the time, it also took something of real value away from hundreds of Penn State football players, who were innocent victims of the fallout from the mess. The NCAA does not even mention the former coach in its news release, although it does state firmly that it intends to continue its defense of the lawsuit from the Paterno family.

As a negotiating point, to give back those Penn State wins in return for keeping the $60 million looks like a complete victory to me.  If anyone put the beat down on the other side it was the NCAA and its executive committee who can walk tall today (for a change, as its record in administering sports for college students is execrable).

As for those grotesquely strutting peacocks spiking an imaginary football and declaring victory for Penn State and Joe Paterno, I would like to suggest that they conduct a thought experiment. Imagine what it’s like to be a 10-year-old in the process of being sexually violated. Think about the touching, the being touched, the insertion of various body parts, the uneasy feeling, the guilt that young children typically feel because they tend to blame themselves, the nightmares, the fear that it won’t be the last time.

Imagine yourself not as one boy, but as every single one of the many children Sandusky was able to violate over the more than 10 years that went by after Paterno first learned that Sandusky was taking boys in the shower.

No, Joe Paterno’s reputation has not been rehabilitated.  And yes, Penn State still has a lot of dues to pay.

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