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It’s that time of year again. The end of summer signals the beginning of Saturday tailgates, BCS debates, SEC dominance (as of late), Heisman candidates, and all of the other staples of college football. However, as the 2012 college football season kicks off there are a few pillars of the sport that have gone missing. More precisely, the glaring absence of some notable programs from the Pre-Season Top 25 AP Poll rankings says something about the sanctions being levied by the NCAA. Traditional powerhouses like Ohio State, Penn State, University of Miami and an up-and-comer like North Carolina are nowhere to be found among college football’s elite.
Indeed, each of these schools has found itself embroiled in scandal over the past few years, ranging from academic issues, to criminal issues and improper benefits. The NCAA has not discriminated amongst these violations and has made it known that it means business.
Most recently, the NCAA issued maybe the toughest penalty of all-time on Penn State for its involvement in the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, in which school officials did not prevent heinous crimes from occurring at the hands of their Assistant Coach. The NCAA issued a $60 Million fine against the university, took away 40 athletic scholarships over four years, and banned Penn State from participating in post-season bowl games for four years.
In March, North Carolina had 15 scholarships taken away over the following three years and was banned from bowl participation in 2012. These sanctions were related to various violations that ranged from players receiving improper benefits totaling $31,000, improper agent benefits, and academic fraud.
Last December, Ohio State had 9 scholarships taken away and was banned from 2012 bowl participation for a similar improper benefits scandal. This resulted in resignation of renowned head coach Jim Tressel and the departure of star-quarterback Terrelle Pryor.
The University of Miami has not yet been punished by the NCAA for egregious improper benefits given by notorious Ponzi-schemer and booster Nevin Shapiro, but it self-sanctioned by not participating in a bowl last year in hopes of lessening its eventual sentence. The penalty is sure to be harsh if the NCAA’s recent rulings are any indication.
All of these sanctions raise interesting legal issues. First, what role should the NCAA have in punishing crimes, if any? As many have argued, the harsh penalty against Penn State’s athletic program may not be justified. They argue that the criminal penalties faced by the perpetrators are enough and that these NCAA penalties harm innocent fans, students, and athletes that had no part in the crimes. Are criminal sanctions not enough of a deterrent for criminals? Is a criminal going to change his behavior because of a bowl ban or will a hard time be the actual deterrent?
Second, are the NCAA-imposed penalties too harsh? A four-year bowl ban can be crippling for an athletic program and for an entire community. Coaches will have a difficult time recruiting top players to a program that can’t play in the post-season or without being able to give them scholarships. This will likely result in poor performance on the field over several years and poor attendance to games, which are a major source of income for universities and local businesses. Not to mention the multi-million dollar fine. Is this kind of penalty necessary? What does the penalty achieve? Does it make an an example out of perpetrators to deter future violations or is it simply retribution that hurts the wrong people?
The third issue is what can be done to prevent this kind of dramatic altering of the college football landscape. College football is a sport full of tradition and history, and without the successes of some of the programs that have been anchors for the sport it loses some of its luster. The NCAA must consider alternatives to retroactive penalties for violators. In most of these instances the perpetrators have graduated from the universities and have moved on with their lives while the current athletes and fans are left to carry the burden of these violations. The NCAA must consider paying players in order to deter them from accepting improper benefits and must have better internal auditing and reporting methods to prevent violations from occurring. This is not to say that these are solutions, but the NCAA must at least put some ideas on the table to save the sport from constant scandal and ruin.
- Raymond Rufat