Having the right priorities: Football for the win

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Having the right priorities: Football for the win

By Eli Talbert / Columnist

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Two weeks ago, the NCAA decided to lift the ban on Penn State’s bowl eligibility and restore the 10 scholarships it took away in 2011 because of the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal. But after the immediate riots at Penn State, no one seems to really care anymore. 

Nevertheless, that won’t stop me from objectively evaluating the NCAA’s decision and the restoration of Penn State’s football program in this column. 

First, I hope you have all properly celebrated the end of this massive punishment against Penn State’s football program — an end that probably reduced many a student to tears after realizing all of the Tostitos Fiesta Bowls they could’ve won in the past two years of heartache and pain. 

Thankfully, the NCAA’s decision has shown us that the all-American sport of football far outweighs any supposed institutional overlooking of child abuse, a great victory for all football fans.

After all, the NCAA’s original punishment didn’t even affect the right people. It might be true that the independent commission — put into place by Penn State’s board of trustees — found that the apparent need to maintain the image of the football program was more important. But when you think about it, moderate sanctions on the football program just weren’t fair. 

Just think of the 20 football players who theoretically could have received scholarships from Penn State if not for the sanctions. The loss of top recruits and the resulting pain the fanbase experienced — although not technically equivalent to child abuse — was still very significant. God forbid those potential recruits wound up at a school like Pitt. 

Not to mention all of the students who missed out on going to bowl games. For die hard football fans, that is like taking away Christmas. It was pure injustice to put such a vulnerable top football program through such agony. Why should any institution be held accountable for the actions of its top leaders anyway? It’s not like they are a reflection of the organization’s values.

In addition, besides failing to report child abuse, Penn State’s football program had nothing to do with the Sandusky scandal. It is simply an unfortunate coincidence that Sandusky happened to use Penn State’s showers to commit his abuse and that employees of the football program happened to witness it. 

According to Pennsylvania law, anyone who comes into regular contact with minors in the course of their employment is mandated to report suspected child abuse. But a college football coach doesn’t fit this criteria. Why should Penn State’s football program be held accountable when its employees fail to report child abuse by one of its former employees on its property, when technically they aren’t specifically mandated to do it? It’s big government at its finest. 

Of course, some people (those with a bias against Penn State football) would point out that three university officials have been indicted by grand juries as a result of the scandal. And even if their behavior was not technically criminal, it warranted the sanctions from the NCAA. These people though — blinded by their hatred for Penn State — forget that the NCAA is a sporting organization and should not be involved in criminal matters. Sure, the NCAA can give sanctions to USC — that are now the near equivalent to those given to Penn State — for unknowingly hosting non-amateurs on it’s athletic teams, but protecting children isn’t really its job.

In light of these reasons, the decision to end Penn State’s sanctions is entirely appropriate. We can all agree that any assumptions that the NCAA only cares about money are negligible. It might be true that when the sanctions were handed out that the stated goal was to “impose sanctions that both reflect the magnitude of these terrible acts and that also ensure Penn State will rebuild an athletic culture that went horribly awry.” Additionally, as recently as January, the president of the NCAA stated that “there were no discussions” of lifting the sanctions. But people change their minds. 

Perhaps the NCAA realized that the magnitude of the acts was actually smaller than previously estimated. Besides, what is far more important than any negative impressions is the positive. Penn State students took to the streets to celebrate, and Big Ten coaches say that ending the sanctions was the right thing to do, while the only people who disapproved were probably those who don’t even like football or root for Penn State’s rivals.

In the end, justice prevailed, and the NCAA’s decision is now a mere footnote in history. It was one small victory for football and the American way of life. But, while we can celebrate now, we must not rest in the future. There are still battles to fight, and as the NFL continues to come under attack from the media for things like alleged child and domestic abuse, I call on all football fans to ensure that football gets the win, yet again. 

Email Eli at ejt26@pitt.edu

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