Are Penn State Penalties Too Tough?

Jul 24, 2012
Originally published on July 25, 2012 10:30 am
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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

We're going to hear next of the Penn State scandal as it looks from State College, Pennsylvania. The university says it accepts the penalties imposed yesterday by the NCAA. College sport's governing body responded to what it called a tragic failure to expose child sexual abuse by a former assistant football coach.

But some in State College say the penalties are too much, as NPR's Joel Rose reports.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: NCAA officials did not impose the so-called death penalty on Penn State's football program. NCAA president Mark Emmert says they thought about it, but decided that shutting down the program for a year or two would hurt too many students and local businesses that hadn't done anything wrong.

MARK EMMERT: Our goal is not to be just punitive, but to make sure the university establishes an athletic culture and daily mindset in which football will never again be placed ahead of educating, nurturing, and protecting young people.

ROSE: The NCAA levied a fine of $60 million along with a four-year ban on post-season bowl games and a loss of scholarships. And it also extracted promises from school administrators to keep a closer watch on the football program.

Senior Evarado Tapias(ph) says a change in the campus culture is overdue.

EVARADO TAPIAS: A lot of people who are not players, they came to this institution just to watch football. So I think it's a little bit ridiculous. You know, where there has been a wrong you have to correct it and - and move on, you know, and focus on the right things, on justice and on getting back to the books.

ROSE: But others here think the NCAA went too far in punishing the entire community for the crimes of Jerry Sandusky, the former assistant football coach who was convicted last month of sexually abusing 10 boys.

Penn State fan Mana Mames(ph) thinks the sanctions over the players and other students who've done nothing wrong.

MANA MAMES: I am angry because to me the students don't deserve to be punished for what Jerry did. They come here for an education. They come here to try to make something of their self. And now they're being punished for what he did. And it's - I feel very bad.

ROSE: Some local businesses worry that they're being punished too, despite the NCAA's claims to the contrary. None of the merchants selling Penn State gear on College Avenue wanted to be interviewed for this story. But I did talk to one businessman who says they're all worried about what the sanctions will mean for the bottom line.

MIKE DESMOND: Without an average football season, we don't have profit.

ROSE: Mike Desmond is one of the owners of The Corner Room, a landmark restaurant and hotel complex across the street from the oldest part of campus. Desmond tried his best to put on a brave face.

DESMOND: I think Penn State fans have a great deal more resolution and tenacity, and I think they'll be showing up. Now, will it be the greatest season in terms of business? Maybe not. But there's no such thing as a horrible football season here in Happy Valley.

ROSE: There has been very little to cheer about in Happy Valley this summer. It's been just a few weeks since a report by former FBI Director Louis Freeh found that senior Penn State officials covered up allegations of sexual abuse against Jerry Sandusky. And attorneys representing Sandusky's victims praise the NCAA's response.

MATT CASEY: Given what I've read and what all of us have read about what people at the highest levels of Penn State did, I wouldn't call it harsh at all.

ROSE: Matt Casey is one of the attorneys representing three young men in likely civil cases against the university. Casey seemed pleased that Penn State officials accepted the NCAA sanctions, at least publicly, without complaint.

CASEY: We know what the reaction was to the Freeh report. We know what they said now in the face of the NCAA's findings. We don't yet know what their response is going to be to the actual victims' claims in Pennsylvania court.

ROSE: It may be that a $60 million fine is just a fraction of what Penn State will have to pay before the Sandusky scandal is over.

Joel Rose, NPR News, State College, Pennsylvania. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.