In 2010, the NCAA handed Penn State athletics one of the toughest punishments ever seen in college sports, stopping just short of abolishing the football program. The NCAA felt that Penn State's self-imposed measures were not enough to make up for the school's efforts to cover up former Coach Jerry Sandusky's raping children, so they fined the university $60 million, reduced the number of football scholarships available each year from 25 to 15, and banned the team from post-season play for four years.
The once-proud Nittany Lions have been stained by the memory of Sandusky. At the time, many faulted NCAA Director Mark Emmert for going too far after the school had fired all officials involved and begun their own self-imposed measures. "I think the resolve of the executive committee and of the Division I board was stated very powerfully in this case," Emmert said when the punishment was originally handed down. Now he has shown dangerous inconsistency by backtracking early. He has allowed Penn State 20 football scholarships next year, and standard Division I number of 25 the year after.
Former U.S. Senator George Mitchell was commissioned by the NCAA to report on Penn State's progress. "While there is more work to be done," he said, "Penn State has clearly demonstrated its commitment to restoring integrity in its athletic program." The original agreement said that in two years the NCAA would review Penn State's progress and determine if sanctions could be reduced. George Mitchell's recommendation has paved the way for the NCAA to return football scholarships to Penn State early. For now, the post-season bowl ban remains in place. However, expect the football team to be allowed to participate in post-season play after review following this 2013-2014 season.
By lessening Penn State's sentence early, the NCAA has shown it needs to review its own punitive policies. They also are tacitly admitting that they failed administer the correct punishment the first time.
In 2010 the USC football program was stripped of its 2004 national championship, banned from bowl games for two years, and relieved of 20 football scholarships. In 2013, the Trojan football team's on-field play suffered, straining under the yoke of maintaining 75 scholarship players on their roster instead of the usual 85. USC Athletic Director Pat Haden said, "We [also] are hopeful that the NCAA's recently enacted enforcement and penalty reforms will result in a consistent and fair enforcement and penalty process for all its institutions. USC will continue to work cooperatively with the NCAA towards that goal."
USC has never had its sanctions reduced, relegating a once-proud national champion powerhouse to a middle of the PAC-12 team. USC's fault was that its basketball and football athletes had improper contact with outside agents and received gifts. The football coach at the time is gone, the basketball coach at the time is gone, and the athletic director at the time, Mike Garrett, who openly galvanized the NCAA, is gone. They all have been gone for years.
Where is the consistency, NCAA? Football programs have received the death penalty for less than what happened at Penn State. Schools like USC never had their punitive measures reviewed, even after making every attempt to reform their programs. Consistent and fair enforcement of the penalty process for all institutions, as called for by Haden, is needed if college football is to reform its practices across the board.