The punishment that the National Collegiate Athletic Association gave to Penn State Monday was an act of creative cowardice. In response to revelations of horrific sexual abuse of children by assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, the NCAA drew up a series of penalties that include a four-year bowl ban, lost football scholarships, a $60 million fine to be paid into a child sexual abuse prevention fund, and the vacating of coach Joe Paterno’s victories since 1998 — the year that the university first became aware of allegations against Sandusky.
Yet even as NCAA president Mark Emmert declared that “football will never again be placed ahead of educating, nurturing, and protecting young people,” the organization lacked the nerve to simply suspend a Penn State football program that covered up for Sandusky even as he used its prestige to gain access to victims. “One of the grave dangers,” Emmert warned, “is that the sports themselves can become too big to fail — indeed, too big to even challenge.” Precisely. But in allowing the Penn State football program to keep playing, hamstrung but uninterrupted, the NCAA proved the point, shielding the university from the consequences of its own failure.