Collier: Flag NCAA for piling on with Penn State penalties
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A vicious, explosive head-to-head crack on a defenseless player is one thing, and standing over the victim and taunting him mercilessly is equally repugnant, but this was worse than both acts combined.
And Mark Emmert wasn't even wearing a football uniform.
The NCAA president did everything at the Penn State sanctions announcements last week but thump his chest and strike an Incredible Hulk pose.
There are way too many aspects of Penn State's situation that are disgusting beyond measure, but Emmert's actions as endorsed by the NCAA seemed almost intent on at least forcing another measurement.
A quick note on my frame of reference: this column has repeatedly called for Penn State to drop football indefinitely, has no sympathy for an entity that can enable a pedophile and then ignore his victims, and regards anything short of getting out of the football business an insincere act of contrition.
In slamming Penn State with a series of preposterous, unprecedented, borderline psychotic penalties, the NCAA has either lost its mind or certainly that small part of it where the definition of hypocrisy once lived.
One year ago this week, Joe Paterno made what would be his final appearance at Big Ten media day. He was asked about the tawdry situation at Ohio State, which led to the downfall of head coach Jim Tressel.
"Ohio State to me has been a great, great, great college football program through the years," Joe said. "I sure as heck don't want to start being critical of situations when I'm not that familiar with them. I try not to even read anything about it. I try to make sure we're doing what we're supposed to do, period."
I'll pause while you choke back the irony of that one.
But the point is that only a year ago today, well before most of the world suspected that Jerry Sandusky had ever done anything that wasn't totally upstanding, the NCAA was overseeing a coast-to-coast cesspool of rules violators, eligibility fudgers, probation-flouting academic frauds, extra-benefit traffickers, stripper-cavorting bowl officials channeling political contributions, recidivist coaches, and who knows what else, and was up to its bleary eyeballs in ongoing investigations.
Not a lot has changed in one year for the governing body of college football, except for the rare opportunity to turn one of its model programs (in terms of academics and graduation rates) into a pinata. Having failed spectacularly for decade after decade at doing what it's supposed to do, it grandstanded to death a situation where I'm not certain it was supposed to do anything.
Penn State's fine was $60 million (the Big Ten effectively piled on another $13 million), or, as Emmert admitted on CNN, 100 times what the NCAA had ever fined anybody. Penn State's scholarship slashes will remove it from its accustomed competence for years to come and maybe forever.
Preposterous. Why not $1 billion? Whatever.
But this notion of vacating victories, dubious at best in its precedents, is purely psychotic in the Penn State case. Look at where and for whom the NCAA has vacated victories: At Massachusetts because Marcus Camby was ineligible, at Memphis in 2007-08 because Derrick Rose was ineligible, at USC because Reggie Bush was ineligible, at Ohio State because Terrelle Pryor and a host of other tattooees were ineligible.
Penn State, to my knowledge, never used an ineligible player in football, and thus never gained an unfair advantage. Moreover, in some not insignificant portion of Paterno's 409 career victories, which is mere accounting and certainly no longer iconic, Penn State beat an opponent that was -- let's see, what's the proper NCAA term? -- cheating like hell.
The NCAA can try putting toothpaste back in the tube all it wants, but I wouldn't be trying to persuade LaVar Arrington, for example, that he never won a game at Penn State.
"It's like Stalin; they're airbrushing people out of history," former State College lawyer and Penn State academic Ben Novak was telling me last week. "I wish Penn State had put its foot down and not signed their consent while the NCAA was in there blackmailing them."
A Penn State economics and Georgetown law grad, Novak sees all manner of procedural flaws in the Sandusky saga and from just about every angle. He believes the university should have rejected the Freeh Report and sued Louis Freeh for delivering an incomplete investigation with potentially erroneous conclusions, and faults the board of trustees for nonsensical missteps going back to November.
"I don't know what the board of trustees was thinking," said Novak, a board member from 1988-2000. "But they were reactive. When the tsunami hit, they decided they had to do something. On Nov. 8, they voted to have an investigation. On Nov. 9, they fired Paterno and said they didn't need an investigation to do that."
Of course, there's nothing you can do with that toothpaste either. Once a god, the late coach now isn't even a statue, or any longer a name on a Nike building or a Brown University award or the Big Ten championship trophy or a downtown mural or even a sandwich at the Hetzel Union Building, where they no longer sell Joegies.
As deadline approached, Peachy Paterno was still an ice cream at the university creamery.
When we suggest that ultimately history will judge, we generally do not refer to NCAA history, which does as it pleases and could just as easily vacate the moon landing, I suppose.
First-year coach Bill O'Brien and his players now will try to put together a football season under the weight of some awful things they shouldn't be associated with, including the NCAA.
First Published July 27, 2012 6:35 pm