On Monday, the NCAA announced it had lifted the postseason bowl ban against the Penn State Nittany Lions football team only two years into its four-year suspension, making the team eligible for the Big Ten Championship game and the first-ever College Football Playoff this season.
The ban from bowl games was part of the July 2012 sanctions against the program after an investigation into the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal that rocked State College, Pa. In addition to a four-year ban from postseason games, the NCAA stripped Penn State of all of its 112 wins from the 1998 to 2011 seasons and fined the university $60 million — both of those sanctions remain in effect.
The NCAA also announced that after this season that Penn State will be allowed to award the Football Bowl Subdivision-standard 85 scholarships to students on the football team. As part of the original sanctions, Penn State was limited to 65 scholarships this year, with an increase of five per season until 2016. That sanction had already been adjusted to allow the Nittany Lions 75 scholarships this season as of September 2013.
While those in the Penn State community rejoiced about the news of the reduction in sanctions, it has been reviled in other corners.
Penn State is 2-0 on the season and is scheduled to open its Big Ten schedule Saturday against Rutgers in New Brunswick, N.J., at 8 p.m.
Coming off of one of the worst weekends of football for the Big Ten in recent memory, the NCAA’s decision can be seen as nothing more than a money grab. Entering week three of the season, only three Big Ten teams appear on the Associated Press Top 25 poll, with none higher than Michigan State at No. 13. There is likely a legitimate fear among NCAA officials that the oldest conference in college athletics will not be represented in the inaugural playoff and that perhaps Penn State is the conference’s best hope.
Penn State would have attended bowl games in 2012 and 2013 if it had been eligible.
Two years ago, the conversation in football circles was whether the NCAA had been too lenient, and if the “death penalty” (suspension of the football program) was more appropriate. Today, Penn State is celebrated by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell for its strides towards integrity, disgusting praise for a university that harbored a sexual predator for over a decade. While Penn State’s football and institutional reputation has been unquestionably smeared by the punishments rendered, rewarding the school for two years of good behavior is horribly close-minded.
Tone deaf as ever, Scott Paterno, Joe Paterno’s son, said that despite the reduction, the family is still pursuing a lawsuit against the NCAA, hoping to reveal the truth and have some of his father’s wins will be restored. Whether blinded by reverence or simply failing to understand logic, Scott Paterno does not seem to grasp how his father’s culpability in the scandal is deserving of punishment. He again chooses to ignore the responsibility his family, his university and the state of Pennsylvania owes to the victims.
Full restoration of Penn State’s football privileges continues the over-glorified mop-up in the years after the scandal. As American society slowly advances toward zero tolerance for domestic and heinous crimes, it was refreshing to see the NCAA take a firm stance against what happened at Penn State. While the scandal was entirely separate from on-field play, the punishment was the NCAA saying it would not allow football to supersede the university’s responsibility as an institution.
At least it did until the league’s commissioners realized the potential financial loss. With 14 member schools, the Big Ten covers a lot of geography. That’s a lot of households watching bowl games and the playoffs, and a large number to lose if the Big Ten is not well-represented this year.
Pennsylvania stepped up its investigation into sexual crimes after the scandal, state Attorney General Kathleen Kane said. “It shouldn’t take an embarrassment on the commonwealth to shame us into taking care of our kids.”
At least she understands the responsibility no one else seems to grasp. The point of the sanctions was to punish the university’s failure to behave responsibly. While Penn State football has unquestionably changed since the scandal broke, the punishment is not supposed to be up for audible for good behavior. Again, the NCAA and the university are ignoring the victims and doing nothing to embrace their responsibility by at the very least admitting that the idea of the Nittany Lions potentially taking the field for a bowl game only three years after the scandal broke might be inappropriate.