Here’s an idea: Could we outsource Congressional responsibilities to the NCAA? A quick look at how they addressed the sanctions against Penn State make me long for such ethical clarity, nuance, and muscle in our country’s legislative branch.
On MSNBC’s Morning Joe today, the hosts and guests were anticipating the NCAA’s announcement about punitive action against Penn State in the wake of the football program’s serial child sexual abuse scandal. Cable host Willie Geist commented that when explaining reasons for punitive actions against other universities, the NCAA often cited “lack of institutional leadership.”
The conversation revolved around speculation that the NCAA could even enact the worst punishment, the “death penalty” (shutting down a program completely for a year or two). “How could there be a bigger ‘lack of institutional leadership'” than what happened at Penn State? Geist asked.
Was this really the problem, though?
In fact, the NCAA seems to agree with me that this scandal reflected not a lack of institutional leadership but rather the aggressive assertion of institutional leadership focused like a laser on a single goal—to protect the football program.
There was no lack of direction, supervision, or management in a decade-long cover-up that involved leaders throughout the university system, from coaches to program directors, to university presidents and board members. This was precise and systemic institutional cooperation at every level to achieve a very particular aim. And for a very long time, they were successful.
The NCAA concluded that the so-called “death penalty” was “not severe enough” (see FAQ on that page). Instead, the multi-faceted sanctions “address the cultural change necessary at Penn State,” the NCAA explains. “Imposing the death penalty does not address the cultural, systemic and leadership failures at Penn State. Instead, our approach demands that they become an exemplary NCAA member by eradicating the mindset that led to this tragedy.”
Eradicating the mindset. They are intending to address the real challenge here: How to change an institutional culture?
And what would an “exemplary NCAA member” look like? Quoting their constitution (!), the NCAA stipulates that members “should adhere to such fundamental values as respect, fairness, civility, honesty and responsibility.”
The punitive sanctions include huge fines equal to one year’s gross revenues from the football program (to be paid into an endowment for preventing child sexual abuse and assisting victims), various restrictions on postseason play and grants-in-aid, a five-year probation period, and vacating wins since 1998.
But that’s not the best part.
The sanctions specify “corrective” action as well. Penn State will enter into an “Athletics Integrity Agreement,” and be supervised and accountable to an independent “Athletics Integrity Monitor” for five years. Among many other requirements, faculty and staff will complete a yearly training course that addresses issues of ethics, integrity, civility, standards of conduct and reporting of violations.
The institution will be changed from the inside out, over a five-year period.
I love these people. Maybe we can ask them to take on gun control next.