NCAA Scaping the Wrong Goat

Having grown up in a far off land I have always been slightly bemused by the furor and hype that surrounds US college sports. Maybe that’s because when I played rugby at university in the UK the only people that came to watch a match were the odd hopeful girl, two old men and a dog, which may have just been a stray. The culture behind college sports is a shining example of what matters to an American, while they love competition, they live to win. That can be at anything, from the man who strives to make the world’s greatest country fried chicken on Diners, Drive Thrus and Dives to bull riding. In short, anything that can be reduced to a competitive sport, is, and there are Americans aiming to be the best, and they usually succeed.

That is what makes the NCAA sanctions so very sad, and may expose the organization to a host of third party lawsuits. The USA is unused to the concept of sporting tribunals. Unlike the United Kingdom, where the Football Association has quite a developed body of case law, and the boxing organizations regularly adjudicate disciplinary matters, the quasi-judicial responses are less sensational.

The judgment handed down by the NCAA is as disproportionate as it is unreasoned, and should be subject to judicial review. Penn State are going to compound their  shameful cover up by once again failing to stand up for their current and former students for fear that they might attract further injury. Aside from the fact that nobody knows where the $60m will go, the relevant actors at the university are either in prison, have resigned or are dead. They do not have to bear the ignominy of being stripped of rank, title and achievements. It is the sportsmen, the back staff and the fans who are being stripped by the NCAA and to be frank it is just not fair.

As a litigator, I have always lived by a simple rule, if the law or its application is correct you should not feel outrage, if you do, it must be changed. We also live in a society where we understand the basic principle that one person cannot be punished for the crime of another. This is what we as lawyers call “natural justice.” The NCAA sanctions have violated the application of natural justice at its very core, setting a dangerous precedent and causing massive collateral fallout.

How dare they take away a glory from a gladiator, telling that person that they trained, sweated and hurt for nought? As one who played a contact sport at a high level, I know what it is like to wake up every day for 13 years in pain, and then there comes a time where pain starts to hurt. All of the downside is worth it in hindsight because you competed; you fought, sometimes together, other times alone. The champion overcomes mental and physical hardship and that remains as a motivation throughout your life because winning breeds success. To have that taken away, to have your wins expunged, your camaraderie called into question is a debilitating amputation that I, for one, would not bear well.

I hope to see this aspect of the sanctions challenged, it is unjust at its very heart with nobody being assuaged and Penn State will not challenge for fear of the penalty being increased. Had Sandusky been a teacher rather than a coach, would we tolerate the students being stripped of their degrees years after the fact? Of course not and sporting titles belong to the players themselves. No loser likes to win by default, they were beaten fair and square, to revise history in this way mocks those who strove to be the best, according to the culture that runs through their veins.

These lads committed no crime, saw no evil and heard no evil, yet the original sin of Penn State had cast them out of Eden for all generations, that pain really must hurt.

Robert Garson
rg@gs2law.com