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Penn State, Michigan State and the NCAA: Two Wrongs Won’t Make a Right

by on May 17, 2018 5:00 AM

With the announcement on Wednesday that Michigan State had reached settlements with 332 claimants for $425 million (another $75 million is set aside for future claims), some wonder what will come next for that university. One of the looming questions is what the NCAA will do to Michigan State.

Since the sexual assault case of Michigan State doctor Larry Nassar exploded in the national news, many people have been vocal in mainstream media and on social media demanding that the NCAA act. They’ve cited the significant sanctions the NCAA levied against Penn State within eight months of charges being filed against former coach Jerry Sandusky.

Compounding that, Michigan State recently sent a letter to the NCAA stating that no NCAA violations were connected to the crimes committed by Nassar, a physician for both MSU and USA Gymnastics. That only heightened the call for the NCAA to act.

Make no mistake, Larry Nassar pleaded guilty to a series of horrible crimes for which he will serve a long sentence in prison. Even he was afforded the standards of due process that have served this nation for centuries.

But as it relates to the NCAA, they denied due process for Penn State and they got it wrong. The case brought by state Sen. Jake Corman and former Pennsylvania Treasurer Rob McCord proved that. The sanctions were walked back and lifted. The outcome of legal proceedings also proved that there was, in fact, no attempt to conceal or cover up anything at Penn State.

So given their earlier errors, why should any of us wish for the NCAA to repeat their mistake?

Because not only is it wrong, but it is potentially dangerous.

First, let’s take a look at what NCAA sanctions against Michigan State might look like.

Would they fine them millions of dollars that would impact the athletic department’s ability to provide opportunities for student-athletes that had nothing to do with this? Some might say they could sanction football and men’s basketball. But why sanction two programs and student-athletes that had nothing to do with Larry Nassar? Since this was predominantly a women’s gymnastics team issue should they sanction the women’s gymnastics program by taking away scholarships?

Of course the answer to that is no. It seems counterintuitive to take away opportunities for future female student-athletes because of crimes that were committed against former female student-athletes. In this case, the NCAA has no business getting involved in criminal matters that are outside their expertise and their oversight.

As for financial restitution, as of yesterday Michigan State has agreed to pay an average of $1.28 million per claim. While that is significantly less than the $3.07 million per claim paid by Penn State, Michigan State was facing more than nine times as many claims. (Had MSU paid at that rate the total would’ve topped $1 billion).

With the civil litigation seemingly settled, now we should allow the time necessary to understand the facts of the case as they relate to Michigan State’s administration. Once the truth is known the laws and policies in place will find the appropriate remedies.

The other, and potentially dangerous, part of the NCAA’s mistake in its rush to punish Penn State resulted in a lost opportunity. In February of 2013 former FBI profiler Jim Clemente issued a report that explained people like Larry Nassar. Because it ran counter to the narrative of the report the NCAA used to sanction Penn State, it was discounted, dismissed and ignored by Penn State, the NCAA and many others.

In that report Clemente outlines exactly how someone like Nassar operates. Clemente wrote they might be doctors finding legitimate ways to commit sexual assault right in front of parents. Some of Nassar’s victims stated they were subjected to assaults disguised as “medical procedures” right in front of their mothers.

But the rush to seal up the phony narrative at Penn State dangerously blinded society to that report and the lessons it contained. That report was more than five years ago… how many people at USA Gymnastics or Michigan State might have spotted this earlier if they’d understood the true lessons of that report? How many parents, armed with the information of that report, might have looked at Nassar more skeptically?

The fault lies with our lack of education in these issues, and an unwillingness to assess where the true dangers in our society come from. Here we are several years later and once again we risk missing an opportunity to learn vital lessons.

Demanding that the NCAA act against Michigan State is a distraction from our need for knowledge that can protect our children. Two wrongs do not make a right. In fact, in this case, two wrongs may allow future offenders to work undetected as well.

State College native and Penn State graduate Jay Paterno is a father, husband and political volunteer. He’s a frequent guest lecturer on campus and at Penn State events and was the longtime quarterbacks coach for the Nittany Lions. His column appears every other Thursday. Follow him on Twitter at
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