When Colleges Mess Up, What Should be the Penalty?
There’s been no shortage of late when it comes colleges breaking or ignoring rules, laws, ethics, morals. The crimes at Penn State relating to Jerry Sandusky obviously top the list, but Ohio State, USC, Miami, and countless other schools have also been caught breaking NCAA rules in recent years. While it’s fairly easy to direct punishment toward the individual(s) responsible for the crimes (i.e. Jerry Sandusky), things become quite murky when it comes to the punishment colleges and universities should face when crimes are committed on their campus. Is it fair to prevent current coaches and student athletes (most, if not all, are innocent of the charges brought against their former coaches and teammates) from enjoying the spirit of future competition through bowl bans and lost scholarships? Or should the focus be exclusively on the individuals found guilty of breaking rules/laws?
The Death Penalty?
Take Penn State for a moment – they are going to be closely examined by the NCAA for “lack of institutional control” in the coming days, and some have even suggested they may face the end-all, be-all of NCAA punishment – the death penalty. Is it fair for Penn State to have their football team become extinct over the next few years because of the gross oversights and irresponsibility by coaches and administrators who have already either been fired (Curley, Spanier, and Schultz), jailed (Sandusky), or died (Paterno)? By all accounts, the current administrators and student athletes do not appear to have any connection to the Sandusky crimes, yet there is a strong possibility they will be the ones faced with the penalties committed by the men before them.
I’m not at all suggesting that institutions be let off the hook for rule breaking and crimes committed on their campuses, but I am recommending that the penalties that follow should be well thought out and crafted in a way that stings the institution, but doesn’t bury them from ever having the chance to rebuild a tarnished reputation created by people who are no longer part of the school.
A Better Solution…
The best answer, in my opinion, is to come up with a way to both allow the current program to still play competitively (and possibly win league championships, etc), but somehow ding them financially (like make all the earnings go toward a scholarship or charity). Trust me, if the school feels it in the wallet, you can be sure they will take better measures and oversight when it comes to compliance issues in the future. Just think, if a school like Penn State is still able to play for league and bowl championships in the near future, how great would it be if every dime they earn through tickets, merchandising, and all other means went directly to future academic scholarships and/or charities desperate for funding to help find cures for things like cancer, or help out children who have been victims of sexual abuse?
If you want to take a handful of scholarships away I’m fine with that, but I think allowing colleges to still field competitive teams in the aftermath of violations committed by personnel no longer with the school can actually be a good thing. When colleges can still remain competitive, current student athletes and coaches not connected to the previous crimes can continue to compete, and the reputation of the college can continue to be repaired.
Interestingly, the real problem in college sports and the origin for almost all of these recent crimes has to do with money — with tens of millions of dollars to be secured each year, it has made it very easy for sport administrators and coaches to turn the other way, ignore, play dumb, lie, deny, and commit countless ethical violations while at the same time boasting of “teaching athletes about values, morals, etc.” At PSU, Sandusky would have been reported years ago if the Penn State brand wasn’t at-risk (and therefore the revenue that goes with it), and at Ohio State it’s likely former Coach Jim Tressel would have paid more attention to the brand new cars his better players were driving if he weren’t on the verge of a potential championship season. If the money ever gets under control at the college level, and more in line with what colleges say they are (academic institutions first, sports second), only then will sport administrators and coaches more readily act on the law breaking and crimes they become aware of while acting as leaders of their respective programs. Short of this happening, you can expect more of the same in the future — more ignorance and denials — as it literally “pays” to not come clean.
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Dr. Chris Stankovich is a Professional Athletic Counselor and Sport Performance Scientist and studies the psychosocial variables impacting human performance and success. He is the author of 5 books and has had his work featured in numerous national media outlets, including USA Today and ABC World News. Dr. Stankovich is known as "The Sports Doc" for his regular television feature on Ohio News Network and NBC 4 Columbus (OH). For more information on peak performance products, speaking engagements, training seminars, and free education downloads, please visit http://www.drstankovich.com.