Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Penn State economic powerhouse

The NCAA did not kill Penn State football with the dreaded "death penalty," which would ban the PSU football program for a year or more. But the NCAA did impose a harsher penalty than it has ever imposed before — a $60 million fine, a reduction in scholarships, cancellation of football victories and other penalties.

But Penn State's crimes are more egregious than any ever disclosed before in a NCAA football program. Penn State, and in particular sainted coach Joe Paterno, had covered up and swept under the rug a pattern of pedophilia by former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, who has been convicted of abusing 10 young boys.

The penalties imposed on Penn State football should dampen the enthusiasm of PSU fans, who chant "We are ... Penn State." That chant is no longer a boast; it's a confession. The punishment will do more than penalize the university's football program. As at other major-college football powerhouses, Penn State football is an economic microcosm in itself. The NCAA estimated that football generates $60 million annually for the university. Add to that the hotel stays, the restaurant meals, the souvenir sales, travel purchases and all the other economic activities that go into major college football, and the impact of the NCAA sanctions will cause an autumn recession in central Pennsylvania. Happy Valley won't be so happy anymore.

The Penn State situation emphasizes both the need to rein in college athletic programs and the difficulty of limiting any activity that is so large and is depended upon by so many people inside and outside of collegiate athletics. The hypocrisy of Division I universities exploiting unpaid athletes in order to enrich the universities and the all-powerful NCAA has been abundantly chronicled. But imposing sensible limits and fairness toward athletes battles the economic reliance of so many enterprises outside the university system that reform has remained stalled for a generation.

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