NEWS BLOG (WSAU) The standard response to NCAA sports sanctions is that current athletes suffer for sins of the past. No one on the Penn State football team today has anything to do with the disgusting sex abuse crimes that are more than a decade old. The perpetrator is in jail. The coach who didn’t do the right thing is dead.
The laughable NCAA standard is “loss of institutional control”. An athletic program that breaks that rule could be shut down.
Here’s the history. Southern Methodist University in Dallas ran a corrupt football program. In 1985 the team was placed on NCAA probation because of a long-running scandal involving payments being made to players from a fund that the Athletic Director was aware of. The team lost scholarships and couldn’t go to bowl games. A year later, the payments to football players hadn’t stopped. A group of alumni and athletic-boosters kept the money flowing. That was considered a loss of institutional control. The school wasn’t able to police its own football program. It was shut down.
In other words, a football team can’t become so big that it operates outside the university’s rules and framework. The tail can’t wag the dog. But it does, at dozens of big-time football schools – even the ones that follow the rules.
Suppose a rule-obeying football coach is having a behind-the-scenes dispute with a university president. Coach ‘A’ really wants a new football stadium, a new practice field, and a new training and weight room. University President ‘B’ wants to spend the money on something else, perhaps a new library or research center. Imagine, at a news conference after losing a big game, the coach says in frustration “I don’t believe President ‘B’ is a true supporter of Big State U’s football program. He’s not behind us 100% We could have the best football team in the land, but President ‘B’ is holding us back.” No coach in their right mind would say that. But many big college football fans will admit that there are many schools where, if the words were uttered, it would be the university president who’d be run out of town.
I’m just as guilty as anyone else. Most of the deans and professors at my alma mater have long since retired since I graduated. I have no idea what great academic work and scholarly research is being done there. I had to look up the new chancellor’s name. But I know from one year to the next how the basketball team is doing. The basketball coach is known around the country.
Suppose a major sports university announced that it was shutting down its athletic programs, but was offering all team members the option to keep their scholarships without playing. How many football players would stay? They’d get the same education. They’d probably do better in class without having to attend practice and games. Yet we know they’d all leave. They’re not at school for to earn a degree, that’s the accidental residual of playing sports for four years. These aren’t student-athletes. They’re athletes who play for a college.
Fans and players more identify with a school’s sports team than the school itself. That’s a loss of institutional control. The NCAA invites us to pretend that it isn’t happening.