Punishing by Pretending
The NCAA handed down the punishment for the Penn State football program today. The gist of it is this: Penn State has to pay a $60 million fine (equivalent of a year’s profits), they will be banned from Bowl games for four years, the number of scholarships they can give out will be reduced, and the NCAA is “vacating” its wins from 1998-2011.
Deadspin’s Drew Magary has some acid thoughts on this, calling the NCAA out for what it is really doing: shining its own reputation. (Warning on that link: language)
But I’d like to approach this from a different angle. It is the last part of the punishment that really confuses people, “vacating” wins. Basically the NCAA will pretend (and ask everyone else to pretend) that Penn State football didn’t win those games. Consequently, we must pretend that Joe Paterno is no longer the college football coach with the most wins. And that is supposed to make everyone feel good about themselves.
This kind of pretending is the perfect punishment in a society where quantifiable “merit,” however manufactured, must count for everything. It is as if you found a high school senior drinking booze with a freshman girl and then retroactively lowered his math SAT scores in order to protect the high school’s reputation. It is stupid. Worse, it pretends that justice can be done through a memory-hole.
The NCAA will not allow us to hold two thoughts in our head simultaneously: that Joe Paterno was grossly indulgent with a known child-predator and that he was the winningest coach in NCAA history. So now we’re changing his report card. Take THAT, Joe. Now you’re only the fifth winningest coach in NCAA history. On paper. Not like real life or anything.
What do you think of the punishment?