Due process at Penn State

by Chris Markham. 0 Comments

I know I said I would stop talking about Penn State a couple of columns ago, and, even by making a few statements I’m going to make in this column it's hard to tell how I'll sound, but the Penn State saga took some more twists and turns.

Since we left off, the Joe Paterno statue was torn down; the school’s football wins were vacated all the way back to 1998; the school was fined $60 million dollars; football scholarships were taken away; and the football team was banned from postseason play for the next four years. Sounds like pretty comprehensive punishments to me.

Again, I have no problem necessarily with the punishment. The statue, the wins, the fine – all of it. There is a little bit of a concern as to the kids, coaches and administrators that are paying for the tragedy that had nothing to do with it, but that’s how punishments in the NCAA usually play out. However, I have two substantial problems on the legal side with the way the NCAA handed down their punishment.

First, we have something in this country called “due process.” Due process usually means that, if someone is charged with an infraction, that person has the right to have his day in court to confront their accuser, and tell their side of the story in front of an impartial judiciary. In this instance, the concept of due process was thrown out of the window.

After the scandal broke at Penn State, the university asked a commission headed up by Louis Freeh to investigate all aspects of the matter. This was an independent third party, and their results, we all hoped, would be unbiased. And that they were.

The commission’s final report was a laundry list of cover-ups, failures and other very unfortunate events. It was my understanding that the University was going to use this report to fix the problems and failures that led to the scandal, and to prevent such things from ever happening again.

But Johnny on the spot the NCAA appropriated the report and used the findings to exert its own punishment on Penn State. The NCAA didn’t investigate one thing. For all I know, no representative from the NCAA even went to University Park to gauge the lay of the land. Rather, it just used the findings of the Freeh commission to justify its penalty against the University. This flies directly in the face of the very brief explanation of due process earlier, and it should send a chilling message to all of the other universities and institutions governed by the NCAA. They can come at you at any time for any reason based upon work that is not their own.

The second issue I have is that the NCAA should have put on their big boy pants and called the penalties levied upon Penn State a death penalty. Instead, they're saying that the University can recover from the penalties levied upon it in due time. This is untrue.

During my lifetime, Penn State football has had two losing seasons (and I’m older than ten years old). Needless to say, these seasons were not back to back. Sure the PSU faithful will be on board for one or two bad outings, but what happens when the losing goes on – and there are no bowl games – and no good recruits? Not even the most die-hard fan is going to put up with that. Slowly, but surely, the support will wane which is not a good thing.

Most businesses in state college towns make their money on football weekends. Fewer people coming to the games means fewer people are spending money in local businesses. Businesses then go out of business, or lay people — usually students — off, or a combination of both. A great many of the other athletic teams and clubs feast off of the scraps from the PSU football table, like the fencing, volleyball and wrestling teams (look up these teams to see the standard of excellence they have produced over the past twenty years). A great many of these will be cut due to the shrinking football revenues.

Let me again make it clear. I am in favor of penalizing Penn State for what it allowed to happen over many, many years. But the NCAA’s sentence on the university, and all of its attendant ramifications, should have been subject to due process. At least we gave Sandusky a trial, didn’t we?

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Christopher Markham writes a regular column for fredericknewspost.com.

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