Loss of Football Scholarships Puts Student-Athletes in Danger
When the NCAA sanctions against Penn State were first announced last July, most of the initial reaction was about the post-season ban and the vacating of wins from 1998-2011.
Although there was speculation and anger about whether the sanctions should be imposed and whether the NCAA even had the authority to create such sanctions, Penn State leadership accepted them by signing the Consent Degree. T
here's a lot of debate still taking place about how Penn State should have handled the sanctions.
But for now, let's forget about the fact that the NCAA based its sanctions on the Freeh Report, a document that has been shown repeatedly to contain numerous leaps in its conclusions and is based largely on speculation.
I addressed some of these problems in an open letter to NCAA President Mark Emmert back in October 2012, which I also emailed to him. I'm sure he's had time to read it by now, although he might be busy defending himself against negative stereotypes, such as USAToday's assertion that he is a "self-serving salesman who escapes blame when scandal visits."
Let's also forget that the NCAA has had it's own problems regarding its investigation into whether a booster provided illegal benefits to University of Miami football players. Emmert was forced to admit that the integrity of the investigation was comprised by the NCAA's own high-ranking staff members. One might say this is an example of the organization's "lack of institutional control," which the NCAA cited as a factor leading to Penn State's sanctions.
Let's instead focus on the scholarship reduction imposed by the NCAA. Based on the sanctions as they currently stand, the Penn State football team will only be able to offer 15 scholarships per year through 2017. Without the sanctions, the team would have 25 scholarships available. Since the scholarship reduction began with the 2013 class, there will be a total of 50 student-athletes who won't be offered scholarships.
So whom exactly is the NCAA hurting with this limitation? Student athletes, specifically potential and current Penn State football players. But the NCAA claims that it was founded as a way to "protect student-athletes." President Emmert has been quoted as saying that one of the main priorities of the NCAA is the student-athlete's well-being.
But taking scholarships away from any program does nothing to protect student-athletes. Even the students who do get scholarships will be negatively affected by the reduction.
Simply put, reducing the number of scholarships available to the Penn State football team does three things:
1. It denies athletes an education. While the top recruits like Adam Breneman and Christian Hackenberg will still be offered scholarships, less touted athletes will be overlooked. After scholarships have been awarded to the big name players, there's not much left for walk-on players and those deeper on the roster. Although some of those fifty players may get scholarships elsewhere, others may not be able to attend college at all.
2. It increases the risk of injury. Fewer players on the sidelines mean less opportunity for substitutions. This increases the likelihood of players on the field sustaining injuries during both the game and practices. If a player is injured, the remaining players in that position will be called upon to play even more.
3. It punishes the innocent. The hours spent practicing and the level of commitment necessary to compete on a team like Penn State is comparable to having a full-time job on top of normal academic responsibilities. Asking students to take on such responsibility without the possibility of being rewarded is simply unjust. Doing so to students who were born in the late 1990s and spent most of their lives not even knowing who Jerry Sandusky is shows how foolish this part of the NCAA sanctions really are.
When someone like Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, a scholarship athlete, is given a laughable half-game suspension for being in direct violation of NCAA bylaws, it becomes obvious how arbitrary and unjustified the NCAA punishments are. A valid argument cannot be made to suggest that these students deserve to be punished for Sandusky's crimes.