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NCAA shows weakness once again

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Greg Couch

Greg Couch has been a national columnist at AOL Fanhouse and The Sporting News and an award-winning columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times. He was featured twice in "Best American Sports Writing" and was recognized by the US Tennis Writers Association for best column writing and match coverage. He covers tennis on his personal blog. Follow him on Twitter.

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The question here is why. The NCAA was so tough that it considered the death penalty on Penn State football after the Jerry Sandusky rape scandal. It was not overkill.

It was a moral message, several messages rolled into one, actually, about victims who can’t defend themselves and about the dangers of a protective cocoon that formed from our obsession with football. Now, a little over a year later, the NCAA is setting a precedent in backing down, and reducing the penalties it gave Penn State.

What a moment this was to choose an action like this.

The NCAA didn’t reduce Ohio State’s penalty, based on tattoos and coverups. It didn’t reduce USC’s, based on payouts and coverups. But it decided to do this now.

A coach and a young boy in a shower of the football building, and this is the moment to back off? A legendary head coach, Joe Paterno, not using the full force of his power to stop it, but rather following protocol and paperwork, and this is the time to reduce penalties?

Honestly, I don’t even understand the reaction to this. Critics seem to be saying that the NCAA is doing the right thing, reducing punishments that were too strict on current players, coaches and administrators who weren’t even involved.

That’s an argument people make everywhere on every probation: Why should they punish people who weren’t involved? It’s because the punishment is on Penn State, no matter how much it has cleaned house. One year does not count as long-suffering.

Penn State suffered hard, but the real victims suffered significantly more. Too many people are thinking about football again, and not about people.

You cannot credit the NCAA for showing mercy on Penn State, when the real mercy it showed was last year’s tough punishments.

You know by now that the NCAA has decided to give back Penn State some of the scholarships it took away under NCAA sanctions. Penn State has done all the right things in the past year. That’s what the NCAA says, and let’s just go ahead and accept that.

Penn State’s current people aren’t the monsters. Surely they can’t stomach the idea of what happened there. In fact, the NCAA says now that it might even allow Penn State to go to a bowl game after all if it keeps up this behavior.

Look, the NCAA didn’t just realize that it’s penalties were tough: Not much more than a year ago, it was considering forcing Penn State to drop football for four years.

A year ago, the NCAA was looking for toughness. It was looking for justice for young boys who had been raped, their childhood and innocence stolen forever. It didn’t matter what happened to Penn State football.

What the NCAA did Tuesday isn’t fair to the victims, or to any other victims of sexual assault anywhere who don’t have the public support to come out and seek help.

This isn’t a football issue. It’s a moral issue.

What’s scary is to think of why the NCAA would have done this. According to Sports Illustrated, this was a big win for Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, one of the most powerful people in college sports. It said he had been lobbying behind the scenes, complaining that the Sandusky case was a legal matter for the courts, not a rules matter for the NCAA.

I also heard that Delany was lobbying, but publicly he said that the NCAA and Big Ten did have the moral authority to act on the case. The Big Ten actually added to the penalties last year.

Penn State is in the Big Ten, and Delany is the commissioner, so it was only natural for him to be an advocate for his teams. Also, it was only smart to prey on the NCAA’s weakness.

The NCAA is hanging on for its life now, having flubbed the Miami investigation and then taken a hard stand to keep pushing a phony amateurism on its athletes, who are making billions for schools.

It came all the way down to its half-game suspension on Johnny Manziel. That’s all the power the NCAA has left.

Meanwhile, the power conferences made a power play in the summer, all but threatening to secede from the NCAA. A source told me the powers prefer to keep the NCAA in place rather than set up a new governing body.

But you can see how ineffective and irrelevant the NCAA has become over the past several months. In just over a year, it has gone from a tough stand on Penn State to it’s new mashed-potato position.

This was not a refreshing new take from the NCAA, as people are saying. It is the NCAA making a decision for its survival, a decision for football.

It was better a year ago, when it made the right decision for the right reasons. For people.

Tagged: Penn State

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