As the lurid details of the events that have catapulted Pennsylvania State University into the headlines have emerged, the rush to impose consequences has seemingly overwhelmed good sense and thoughtful, deliberative reaction. The National Collegiate Athletic Association’s imposition of penalties -- taking away victories earned on the football field, banning post season bowl participation, loss of athletic scholarships, and a fine of $60 million -- seem, with one exception, to miss what ought to be the targets of everyone’s understandable wrath.
In addition, there are serious questions about how and why the NCAA has chosen to assert jurisdiction over these matters, and what precedent this establishes for future events involving NCAA member schools.
First, the wrongdoers. From all the evidence assembled and made public, Jerry Sandusky has been convicted by a jury and will undoubtedly spend the balance of his days in prison. Former President Graham Spanier and the two administrators implicated in the cover-up of the Sandusky crimes have been fired. Two, and possibly all three, face criminal prosecution, as well. Coach Paterno has died. With the exception of the taking away of victories from the team, which officially denies Paterno and his family the distinction of being the football coach with the most victories of any in history, none of the other penalties imposed affect any of the individuals involved in the events.
Second, the victims. While the actual victims of the horrendous crimes have the satisfaction of Sandusky’s conviction, and will be entitled to civil remedies against the individual wrongdoers, and very likely the university, the NCAA punishment does nothing to compensate the children or their families. The money penalties are going to establish a new charitable enterprise to focus attention on child abuse, a worthy cause, but will do nothing to help the victims associated with this tragedy.
Third, the new victims. The NCAA sanctions affecting bowl games and athletic scholarships will now affect athletes who have done absolutely nothing wrong. And the financial sanctions risk impacting the entire student body and faculty at Penn State. While the NCAA has gotten most of the headlines, the Big Ten Conference imposed its own sanctions on Penn State, including its annual share of television revenue for four years. In combination with the NCAA fine, the university will lose $73 million. Add to that sum the expected funds necessary to resolve civil cases that the crime victims will be entitled to receive, plus litigation costs, and the sums involved could, according to one of the trustees, approach $500 million. There is the further concern that liability insurance carriers could decline coverage of legal claims if it is shown the wrongdoing by Penn State officials was intentional. Typically, coverage is limited to acts of negligence.
With the athletic program hobbled by the sanctions and loss of television revenue, funding the payment of these matters will likely require that either students, through tuition hikes and/or fees, or taxpayers be required to pay up. And as this all plays out, is there any doubt students who might ordinarily choose to attend Penn State will go elsewhere, and a superb faculty, assembled over decades, will slowly but surely drift away to other institutions where resources will not be drained paying for the sins of five people long gone from the institution?
Obviously, not all of these potential consequences are due to the NCAA and Big Ten conference. But the piling on, without a clearly defined purpose and questionable subject matter jurisdiction, is unnecessary, at best, and sadly misdirected.
There is no evidence that the events in any way involved intercollegiate competition, improperly recruiting athletes, providing improper benefits to athletes or any other rule in the NCAA’s micromanaging of competition-related conduct. The use of the notion of “institutional control” as the basis for the NCAA’s jurisdiction in this instance can now be used to assert NCAA sanctions in any event that involves a university and its athletic program employees and students. This seems significantly beyond the legitimate jurisdiction of, and purpose for, the NCAA.
While public universities have been experiencing reductions of state financial support for many years, few if any could withstand the dimension of the impacts that are being imposed, without serious consequences to the academic mission of the institution.
So what has the NCAA really accomplished? With the exception of the Paterno victory reduction (which seems entirely appropriate), its sanctions miss the wrongdoers, miss the crime victims, and in a sense, create a new category of victims (students, faculty, taxpayers and the academic vitality of the university).
The precedent being set raises, in my mind, serious questions about the future. One example: what if the tragic shooting events several years ago at Virginia Tech involved either an athlete or former employee of the athletic department, and as an evaluation later determined, the school had not undertaken sufficient steps to warn other students of the danger as events unfolded. Would such circumstances call for NCAA sanctions over and above the criminal and civil justice responses? After all, the crimes would have been related to the athletic department, and the university’s “institutional control” was found to be inadequate.
The NCAA’s actions in this instance, leaving aside any arguments about due process, feel more like politicians, each trying to one up each other offering competing, kneejerk legislative proposals in response to the world’s latest tragedy, rather than the thoughtful, effective, and properly targeted sanctions expected of respected educators.
Robert L. King is president of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education.
A group of engaged University of Virginia alumni released a public letter Wednesday calling for the university's board to be more forthright about why members asked President Teresa Sullivan to resign before reinstating her 18 days later. The letter applauds the decision to reinstate, but argues that the reluctance to fully explain why board members asked her to resign in the first place is nothing by "window-dressing and cover-up" and continues to impair the university's reputation. The letter states that the board failed at the basic responsibilities of corporate governance. "Reconciliation that does not analyze Board operations openly and comprehensively, in order to permit fundamental changes in the Board's operation and committee structure, and possibly the Board's composition, will ultimately reconcile nothing," they wrote.
The board is holding its annual retreat in Richmond next week.
The University of Virginia announced Tuesday that the institution's chief operating officer, Michael Strine, has resigned after just over a year in the position. "Michael recently determined that it would be in the best interest of the University that he step down and allow me to do some necessary internal restructuring," said President Teresa Sullivan in a statement.
Strine, who came to U.Va. from Johns Hopkins University in July 2011, was a central figure in the drama surrounding Sullivan's resignation and reappointment in June, with sources close to the president saying that Strine met frequently with board members without informing Sullivan of the discussion and was highly critical of Sullivan's leadership. "Though it is hard to step aside, I am confident that this step helps the University and those it serves by allowing this Board and President the opportunity to pursue changes aimed at ensuring communication, accountability and shared governance," Strine said in a statement.
In the multibillion-dollar world of Division I intercollegiate sports, some costs are part of the public conversation and others are not, making it difficult for university administrators, faculty members and fans to understand the true costs of the athletic enterprise.
For example, the salaries of coaches and universities’ sports profits command much attention. The University of Alabama’s football coach Nick Saban’s reported salary of $5.3 million pushes him past Mac Brown, the head football coach at Texas, who earned $5.2 million. The University of Kentucky wins the basketball salary ranking at $5.4 million, followed closely by Louisville’s $4.8 million. Profits are also well-publicized. In 2010-11, Duke University basketball was reported to have had a profit of $14.3 million, barely beating its in-state rival, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, at $13.8 million.
Two recent reports, however, are stunning examples of the types of expenses that add immeasurably to the costs of the intercollegiate athletics enterprise — at a minimum for the revenue sports — yet become transparent only when a scandal or crisis forces this information into the sunlight. UNC and Pennsylvania State University have revealed that they have generated sizable expenses to address athletics scandals.
In the ongoing athletically driven academic scandals that erupted at UNC in 2010, the administration recently announced that the university has incurred $467,000 in fees for outside legal services to date. Penn State has reported nearly $12 million in fees — including crisis communication and the bill for the Louis Freeh report — to address the massive scandal involving former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky and the university’s response to his years of child molestation.
Even though officials have claimed that these expenses do not diminish the resources of the university — because they are almost magically covered by unrestricted endowments, athletics revenues, and insurance — the opportunity costs are still immense. To put the UNC expenses in perspective, based on in-state tuition of $7,008, these fees would have helped 66 students reach their educational goals, or provided books and supplies for over 400 students. These fees would have supported seven assistant professors in the arts and humanities or four full professors in the natural sciences and math. Or how about salaries for 12 North Carolina public school teachers?
Further, how do we begin to calculate the costs of the time and energy that UNC’s chancellor, Holden Thorp, and Penn State’s president, Rodney Erickson, have devoted to the respective scandals on their campuses, not to mention the many other administrators who support these leaders? The costs of time spent by special faculty committees that investigate intercollegiate sports improprieties only add to the financial toll. These costs do not appear on university financial statements.
The growth in the complexity of the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s byzantine participation rules that vainly attempt to rein in the corruptive effects of the billions upon billions of dollars that flow through the athletic enterprise further add to costs. As part of its response to the ongoing scandal, UNC has hired two additional "compliance" officers, adding to the already substantial burden of adhering to NCAA codes. The news coverage of UNC’s external legal fees noted that most of these fees were directed to two law firms that have particular expertise in NCAA investigations. The fact that law firms have actually developed specialties in NCAA regulations is further evidence of the costs of compliance.
There are also hidden costs to the university in salary negotiations. With the escalation in compensation for celebrity coaches in football and basketball, many have turned to professional agents. To my knowledge, not many philosophers or music professors or historians have hired agents to represent them with their deans in salary negotiations. And yet, an Associated Press article in 2010 indicated that one sports agent was associated with coaches who were likely to earn $50 million in post-season bowl payouts for their universities, some fraction of which gets converted to bonuses negotiated into contracts.
Highly paid coaches understandably depend on the expertise and experience of agents to develop and manage negotiating strategies in the same way that they count on their talented (and often highly paid) assistant coaches to design game plans. While the economics of the relationship between coaches and agents makes sense from the perspective of coaches, it is not clear that universities have the expertise and experience to be suitable and effective advocates for their own interests. After all, a university might negotiate with a head football or basketball coach every few years, while a sought-after sports agent is likely engaged in high-stakes negotiations frequently. If negotiations are handled internally by administrators who are no doubt competent, but inexperienced, there is a cost in failing to achieve the best outcome for the university. If universities turn to outside negotiators, that too becomes a hidden cost.
These hidden costs are not limited to the "business" aspects of intercollegiate sports. In recent years, it has become increasingly and alarmingly clear that football-related head injuries take a painful toll on the well-being of athletes in their later years. Indeed, the cost of injuries has been recognized by the NCAA for many years, but as Taylor Branch noted in his recent cogent critique, the NCAA decided to not be fully transparent about those costs. The workmen’s compensation system is designed to provide payments to workers who are injured on the job. But in the early 1950s, when faced with the potential financial impact of making universities "employers" of athletes — that is, athletes as workers, with the associated financial compensation for their injuries — the NCAA crafted the term “student-athlete” to make this responsibility ambiguous. As Branch noted, the question of athletes as workers entitled to worker’s compensation is continuing to work its way through the courts. And given the current use of the ambiguous concept of “student-athlete,” the true costs of football-related injuries have yet to be estimated. If the courts find in favor of the athletes, universities and the NCAA could be on the hook for millions.
Some claim that the legal and other professional fees that seem to be a growing dimension of intercollegiate sports come from assets that do not directly diminish university resources. Yet the opportunity costs are substantial and should be discussed openly and explicitly as such — not rationalized away. As institutions with special status in society and as institutions where the search for truth is at the core of their missions, universities should make great efforts to bring the hidden costs of intercollegiate football into the light. Only then can universities accurately calculate and weigh what sadly appears to be the increasingly harmful impact of intercollegiate football on their missions.
Lewis Margolis is associate professor of maternal and child health at the Gillings School of Global Public Health of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.