Power Play Killing NCAA Credibility

The disconnect has never been greater among the NCAA, those it commands and the public for which it spends countless dollars to convey the illusion of professionalism.

Criticism of the NCAA is an age-old leisure activity preferred by fans, administrators and even professional leagues that use university athletics as cost-efficient developmental leagues. Things have changed. This may be the first time in its history the NCAA’s biggest problems are self-inflicted.

Its handling of Penn State angered more than just the residents of Happy Valley. Many have been the voices claiming that the unprecedented actions were an over-reach of authority and were a violation of federal law. That is the opinion of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett.

Corbett filed a lawsuit, one of many in which the NCAA is involved, to have all consent decree penalties thrown out. The consent degree is the document Penn State signed with the NCAA agreeing to the penalties.

In the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, Penn State agreed to pay a $60 million fine to the NCAA, which would use the money to finance child abuse protection programs. Sounds fair. But things are never so simple in Indianapolis.

The NCAA wants to spread the money among other states, but the Pennsylvania Legislature and Corbett disagreed, passing a law that requires the money to be spent in-state.

Just hours after Corbett signed the bill, the NCAA filed a federal challenge asking the Pennsylvania Institution of Higher Education’s Monetary Penalty Endowment Act to be thrown out, saying it violates the Commerce Clause in the U.S. Constitution. Corbett countered, saying the bill “makes sense and is the right thing to do.” Sounds rational.

The NCAA may be correct in its interpretation of the law, but the issue of where the money is spent is more of an ethical question than a legal one. It was the children of Pennsylvania who were the victims of Sandusky’s disgusting reign of terror, and it is they who deserve any further protection the money can provide.

This is not to suggest Pennsylvania’s problems are unique. Sexual assault of children is a widespread problem affecting a heartbreaking number of children in every state.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 676,569 children were reported as victims of abuse and/or neglect in 2011. Of that number, 9.1 percent were sexually abused. That’s 61,567 annually. Who knows how many more suffered in silence, afraid or unable to ask for help?

By acting as the uncaring overlord, the NCAA shows itself having little interest beyond maintaining its grasp on power. The determination to control spending further complicates the issue by reducing its effectiveness.

In Pennsylvania, $60 million can go a long way. Dispersed among an undetermined number of places and organizations reduces its effectiveness to a show disguised as concern. This is the image the NCAA is fighting – and losing.

The NCAA has more important legal issues to worry about than who gets to spend a relatively small amount of money.

Among those is the defamation suit brought by ex-USC running back coach Todd McNair, which he says resulted from the NCAA’s tainted investigation into impermissible benefits given to Reggie Bush.

University of Miami president Donna Shalala already has laid the groundwork for a possible legal action resulting from the NCAA’s admittedly unethical investigation of the school’s involvement with convicted Ponzi scheme perpetrator Nevin Shapiro.

Most damaging is former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon’s class action lawsuit that claims the NCAA violated the Sherman Antitrust Act by forcing college athletes to sign a contract that gives the NCAA sole right to make money off players’ names and likeness for perpetuity.

The NCAA needs to focus on this potential billion-dollar case, not the minor issue about who gets to spend what where.