By Jim Weber
Those in the media get paid to have opinions.
This is particularly true in the sports media industry where we are subjected to hours of daily television programming in which sports writers turn the most trivial of matters into debates and intentionally troll the public at large with contrarian arguments solely to increase ratings.
So Mark Emmert’s decision as NCAA president to take the unprecedented step of personally sanctioning a football program and foregoing the tedious infractions committee process already has people up on both sides of the aisle screaming at each other about whether Monday’s sanctions are “right” or “wrong.”
Emmert announced his decision Monday morning to hammer Penn State with a $60 million fine, four-year bowl ban and vacating all wins dating to 1998 based on extremely broad bylaws like coaches being required to “promote the character development of participants” – basically finding whatever verbiage he could to justify sanctioning Penn State after the most egregious scandal in college sports history. Then he skipped the entire infractions committee process by getting approval from the NCAA’s Division I Board of directors.
On one side, people will cry Emmert did what he had to do in this extraordinary circumstance and that it will hopefully lead to a new era in which the NCAA doesn’t drag its feet endlessly while ruling on infraction cases like the Willie Lyles scandal at Oregon and the Nevin Shapiro debacle at Miami (FL). They’ll say that Emmert had to set a precedent for the future and that coaches and athletes unaffiliated with scandal always face the consequences; the Nittany Lions, sadly, should be no different. And they’ll point out that Emmert simply could not let this case drag on for a year or more through the infractions committee process like the scandals at Oregon and Miami (FL) and give off the perception that the NCAA was turning a temporary blind eye to the Jerry Sandusky scandal and letting the inmates (literally, in this case) run the prison – an analogy many will find very fitting for the NCAA.
On the other hand, there will be people shouting that Emmert is grandstanding to those with their pitch forks out and also opening pandora’s box by anointing himself this much power by personally sanctioning the school and skipping due process. This side will say that Emmert punishing all these innocent players, coaches and fans that had nothing to do with the scandal is a crime in itself and that the Penn State community is now essentially joining Jerry Sandusky in shackles with this ruling.
We trust the legal system to serve “justice” and those in college sports hope for the same from the NCAA. But in a case like this, there will never be justice from either governing body.
How exactly is it just that Jerry Sandusky only has to sit in a jail cell for the few remaining years of his life while at least 10 chidlren were sexually abused and will have to live with the mental scars forever?
In the same way, this was a no-win situation for Emmert and the NCAA as a “right” decision was impossible.
It could either sit back and let its badly broken infractions system rule on the matter far, far too late or Emmert could step in with executive power that bordered on recklessness to lay the hammer down with lots of collateral damage.
Emmert’s only hope to avoid one of those two options was for Emmert and Penn State president Rodney Erickson to decide on the punishments together, have PSU impose the sanctions on themselves and have the NCAA concur with them. But who knows what Erickson’s willingness was to do that and what timeline he would have been on.
So aside from that happening, Emmert was going to criticized for either path he choose to handle this case.
And according to Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports, it appears Emmert felt like he had no choice but to evoke executive power after watching the bureaucracy of the NCAA tie his hand in relation to the Oregon and Miami (FL) scandals.
If it’s any consolation to the NCAA president, it appears there is less outrage over his decision than there would have been if Penn State headed into the 2012 season unpunished by the association. So if that’s what defines justice in this world of the 24-7 news cycle and endless debates, then Emmert acted justly.
As for me? I’ve made it no secret when I’ve disagreed with Emmert in the past and I know I’m supposed to pick a side in this ruling, lay out a thesis and defend it to the death while either casting stones at Emmert or hailing him as a savior.
But I just can’t this time.
Jim Weber is the founder of LostLettermen.com. His column appears Mondays and Wednesday. You can follow him on Twitter at @JimMWeber.