Opinion: A Better Way to Punish Rogue Programs

This ought to have been the guy who announced Penn State's punishment. The Big Ten should have been the mover and shaker here, not the NCAA.

There’s a better way to punish a school and its football program than the diktat-style tantrum the NCAA just handed down on Penn State. Nevermind the scandal wasn’t a football team issue, or a players-on-the-field issue, or an unfair advantage issue.

The better way comes from TCU’s football history, no less, in the leather-helmet era.

A little history: in 1912 TCU’s coach knowingly played an ineligible player, to great effect, and TCU won lots of games. Word got out (the player was a transfer who enrolled as a Horned Frog under his twin brother’s name, only to be spotted and recognized by a rival team’s fan near the end of the season) and the punishment was handed down. It was severe—TCU was kicked out of its conference for a year.

Conference affiliation didn’t mean as much then as it does now, but TCU had to scramble to find opponents for the 1913 season. That oddball year on TCU’s schedule was filled with a YMCA team (twice), a junior colleges, and even a high school team.

TCU applied to re-join its conference (the TIAA) and was back among its usual peers in 1914.

This episode shows superior discipline to the NCAA’s current model in two ways. First, TCU’s punishment came from its conference. Imagine how much quicker the Big Ten could have actually done an investigation on Penn State than the NCAA, which didn’t even try in the current situation (it relied on the Freeh Report instead)? The BCS conferences, especially, could devote a small percentage of their TV money to fund a team of investigators, and could even incorporate subpoena-style tools into their contracts with member schools. There’s plenty of money from which to craft carrots and sticks, which would make the conferences far superior investigators than the NCAA, which lacks sticks.

Second, the 1913 penalty handed down on TCU was simple, and devastating: TCU could not play in its conference. Imagine if the Big Ten had held a press conference today instead of the NCAA and said, simply, "The eleven institutions of the Big Ten that have no harbored child molesters are not going to allow Penn State to play them in football for the 2012 season, and will donate the TV revenue that those cancelled football games otherwise would have generated to an appropriate charity."

Ouch.

Penn State could still play football (like TCU did in 1913) but who would care? All that would be left to do would be for the NCAA to allow free transfers away.

Such a penalty wouldn’t leave a bad taste in the mouth because of its dictatorial origin and style. The money fine wouldn’t feel totally made up; the school could still host football games, for the salutary effects football gives, but not in a way that mocks the victims of Penn State’s crimes.

And the NCAA could lose the weird brown-shirt vibe that it has suddenly assumed for itself. Let the Big Ten take up that garment. It’s a better fit.

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