IOWA CITY, Iowa — I know, I know. Penn State’s odyssey through four years’ worth of NCAA sanctions has only just begun. There’s still plenty of time for postseason bans and scholarship reductions to suck the life out of the program.
But there’s something about the way the Nittany Lions utterly dismantled Iowa, their long-time nemesis playing in the comfort of Kinnick Stadium, that got me wondering what happens if the penalties fail to cripple Penn State’s ability to compete in 2013 and beyond.
In jumping out to a 5-2 start, coach Bill O’Brien’s squad has already shown that it can compete in 2012 at or above the level fans came to expect in the years leading up to the sanctions.
Key players like wide receiver Allen Robinson, tight end Kyle Carter and running back Bill Belton all have lots of eligibility remaining. And with top recruits including tight end Adam Breneman and quarterback Christian Hackenberg due to arrive as soon as this spring, it’s reasonable to conclude that the Lions can at least compete over the next couple of years, too.
And with that in mind, it’s hard not to look back at the hysteria that ensued after the restrictions were announced during the summer and chuckle. Buzz words like “unprecedented” and “Draconian” were tossed around so casually to describe what was happening — and yet, here we are, seven games closer to Penn State emerging from NCAA prison at least relatively healthy.
The funniest part?
The penalties were and remain unprecedented and Draconian by NCAA standards. The organization went out of its way to circumvent its own integrity enforcement procedures and hammer Penn State. This was the toughest deal the NCAA could get with Penn State and the organization made a show of making an example of Penn State, with President Mark Emmert holding a press conference in a lecturing tone about how the university’s culture required “corrective and punitive measures.”
Doesn’t this five-game Penn State winning streak make the NCAA look silly now? Isn’t it hard to take the group seriously?
That’s not an attempt to diminish what happened at Penn State. It’s a serious situation with devastating human consequences. But that’s exactly why the NCAA had no business intervening and trying to play judge and jury when, in fact, we have judges and juries to do their jobs.
No bowl ban or scholarship reduction is ever going to correct the terror Jerry Sandusky inflicted on those he abused. By suggesting that they can, the NCAA has painted itself into a corner in enforcing the more trivial offenses it’s supposed to be policing, such as recruiting violations and improper benefits.
NCAA member schools now know they’d have to screw up pretty badly to invite Penn State-level sanctions, and they now know that even if they do end up approaching that level, the waters are navigable, assuming Penn State continues on this road.
As a result, every game Penn State wins during the next four years eats at the credibility of the NCAA as an enforcement agency. The organization went all-in when it clobbered the Lions without a healthy respect for the program’s still-considerable power buoyed by a vast and moneyed fan base.
Now, by branding its actions against Penn State as a doomsday scenario, the NCAA may have created its own doomsday, one where schools act even more independently than they did before the Sandusky case because they know the NCAA’s precedent has already been set.
And it’s not so scary after all.
Adam Bittner is a senior majoring in journalism and is the Collegain’s football editor. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org