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Some Notes on Paterno and the Penn State Sentence

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  • I essentially concur with Ed Kilgore.
  • That said, I understand some of the ambivalence expressed by Emily Bazelon.   Certainly, this should be primarily considered a matter for criminal and civil courts.   I do think, however, that arguments that the judgment was wrong because it represents collective guilt prove too much.   There’s no way of punishing institutions, or punishing individuals in ways that undermine institutions, that doesn’t affect innocent third parties.  Exposing the fraud at Enron cost a lot of people who had nothing to do with it their jobs and many more people who had nothing to do with it their savings — but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it.   As Bazelon says, the NCAA has made reasonable accommodations for incoming players, allowing them to transfer without penalty.   I don’t see a problem with the punishment on these grounds.
  • Pushing up the publication date will almost certainly make the content of Posnanski’s Paterno bio worse.   But even on purely commercial grounds, it’s hard to see what the logic was. (Mitch Albom didn’t make millions writing books about the wisdom he gleaned from Bernard Law.)   Did Posnanski convince himself and his publishers that the Freeh report would exonerate — or at least not further implicate — Paterno?
  • I normally think the business of “vacating” records and accomplishments is rather silly.   But — with the caveat that the appropriate date should be 2001, not 1998 — in this case there’s a certain logic to it.   Paterno’s obsession with a particular statistical accomplishment probably played a substantial role in the collective decision to cover up for Sandusky, and if his name no longer appears at the top of the all-time coaching wins list fine with me.
  • Commenters have touted a couple of responses I find problematic, from Spencer Hall and bmaz.  Both, I think, make the fundamental mistake of proceeding from a correct premise — the NCAA is appalling — to the incorrect premise that therefore this action is particularly indefensible.   In particular, I find objectionable Hall’s assertions about how “[t]he key is not killing the victim, the Penn State football program.” [my emphasis]  Jesus Christ, just stop.   Even if you think the NCAA shouldn’t have gotten involved, the Penn State football program isn’t a “victim” in any sense here.   It’s also far from obvious to me that there won’t be any deterrent effect from the sanctions, although Hall assumes this without argument.
  • I also don’t understand much of bmaz’s argument.   First of all, I don’t understand how plea bargains made by institutions with the resources of Penn State violate due process.   And even leaving this aside, the NCAA’s powers are not unlimited or unilateral.   The NCAA is delegated powers by major programs like Penn State to protect their interests, and if the programs don’t like it they’re free to walk away and hold athletic competitions under whatever auspices they choose anytime, and they are also free to challenge individual decisions in the courts.   Now, this cartel is certainly cynical and exploitative and the phony “amateurism” it stands for is an abomination.     But this particular action is one of the least objectionable things they’ve ever done.    And at any rate, the NCAA doing nothing about Penn State would do absolutely nothing to redress any of the problems with the cartel.   There seem to be several missing links in the causal chain of both arguments that remind me of nothing so much as…bmaz’s arguments about why liberals should stop worrying and learn to love neoconfederate constitutional arguments.   (“1. The Supreme Court holds any part of the New Deal regulatory state Republicans don’t like unconstitutional.   2. ???  3. ??? 4. ???  5.  Single payer!”)
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