Editorial: NCAA needs to heed its own message

Published 10:11 am Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The sanctions the NCAA handed down this week to Penn State University are appropriate and good for college football. But it is also ironic that the very organization handing down the penalty bows to the same football-is-king mentality it accuses Penn State of doing.

Before we explain why, let’s review the sanctions:

• The university agreed to an unprecedented $60 million fine and a four-year ban from postseason play and a cut in the number of football scholarships it can award — the price it will pay for having looked the other way while Jerry Sandusky brought boys onto campus and molested them.

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• The NCAA also erased 14 years of victories, wiping out 111 of coach Joe Paterno’s wins and stripping him of his standing as the most successful coach in the history of big-time college football.

What the NCAA is hoping the Penn State football fanatics — and the rest of college football — understand is that the culture of “pay any price for gridiron success” must end.

And there is no doubt that Penn State deserved the sanctions, including the stripping of the Paterno wins. Winning while children suffer at the hands of an assistant coach is not winning.

The strong sanctions highlight a longtime problem with college football. The NCAA is a weak organization, and far too often — thanks to myopic court rulings — schools and conferences have the upper hand.

Moreover, in the name of football cash, the modern NCAA has been drinking from the same cash trough as the conferences and schools. Together, to the detriment of academics, they have extended the number of games in the football season, granted more bowls, allowed more weeknight games, issued flimsy penalties for violations (the Cam Newton case, for instance) and made college football season almost as long as pro football season. College football goes from August to January. Pro football goes from September to February.

This action against Penn State by the NCAA is a step in the right direction. The agency flexed executive power, rather than getting bogged down in bureaucracy and aimless political procedures. It showed it still can be an agency with academics and so-called student-athletes in mind.

We hope the NCAA finds the means to be a strong leader in college sports with the academic needs of students first and foremost in its mission, rather than an agency that just appeases cash-crazed college presidents and conference commissioners.