By now you’ve heard about the alleged crimes committed by the Penn State athletic staff and administration. These were both crimes of commission and of omission. Whether it was institutional culture or a deliberate cover-up conspiracy, the guilt lies not just with the perpetrators and their abettors, but with the institution itself.
Penn State is handling this situation badly – it’s as if Rick Perry were running its damage control operation. First, the school decided to continue with business (and I do mean business) as usual by playing today’s scheduled football game, which it lost to Nebraska. Even worse, it established an investigation committee to be led by Kenneth Frazier, a member of the Board of Trustees and a Penn State alumnus. This is hardly an atmosphere which suggests independence and impartiality.
What should have happened? Pennsylvania Governor Corbett and NCAA President Mark Emmert should have jointly taken the lead in the investigation, not the institution itself. They should appoint a truly independent committee with experts on criminal law, child molestation issues, intercollegiate athletics, and other relevant areas. Even if the Frazier Commission does an outstanding job, there will forever be a pall over its work because of the group’s connection to the university.
The university itself should show some contrition also. It should cancel the remainder of the football season and allow its so-called student-athletes to transfer their scholarships and continue their football careers at other schools.
But it’s not just the school and the state that should take action.
The NCAA, which is fond of sanctioning schools for lesser infractions, should bar Penn State from appearing in post-season play for five years, based on the seriousness of the institutional lapses. What was revealed this week is orders of magnitude worse than a wealthy alumnus buying a car for a prospective athlete.
The media should also examine itself. One news outlet reporting on today’s games referred to the crimes as a “tumult.” A tumult is when a drunken fan spills his beer on someone. What happened in State College was not a tumult, it was a tragedy.
The nation’s universities should also do some self-examination. Are these multi-million dollar athletic programs in consonance with the institutions’ goals? Intercollegiate athletics are supposed to teach life lessons and build character. Penn State is not the first, nor will it be the last, where these goals are subsumed by the almighty dollar.
The justice system should take care of determining guilt or innocence of the various perpetrators in this case. But if the institution continues on with business as usual, then it will not have adequately addressed the issue for Penn State and hundreds of other institutions across the nation.