The following editorial was published Tuesday by the Fresno Bee.
The NCAA attempted to send a powerful message to Penn State and the rest of college football with the severe penalties handed out in reaction to the child sexual abuse scandal at Penn State.
We understand the NCAA's motives and believe that those involved in the scandal should face criminal charges. But this is a legal issue that should be handled by the criminal justice system not the athletic sanctioning body.
The NCAA penalties reached beyond the traditional sanctions for violating its rules, and held Penn State responsible for failing to protect children.
That conclusion is based on the evidence at hand an investigation headed by former FBI Director Louis Freeh and the trial of convicted child abuser Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State defensive coach.
But we question the NCAA's authority to punish the football program for the criminal activity of Sandusky and those who are alleged to have covered for him. Those implicated in the Freeh report should have their day in court.
Assuming the Freeh report's conclusions are corroborated in court, those involved in allowing Sandusky to continue abusing children should receive the harshest criminal penalties possible. The legal system will ultimately deal with them, as it has already done in Sandusky's case. He was convicted on 45 counts of child sex abuse. There also will be civil suits against Penn State brought by many of the victims.
The NCAA sanctions include fining Penn State $60 million, instituting a four-year ban on bowl game appearances, taking away scholarships and forcing the university to forfeit victories going back to 1998. The last sanction was a direct shot at the legacy of the late coach Joe Paterno, who was involved in the cover-up according to Freeh.
"Football will never again be placed ahead of educating, nurturing and protecting young people," said NCAA President Mark Emmert, adding that the university must be held to high standards of honesty and integrity.
We find it quite self-serving for the NCAA, which has promoted college athletics to the level that allows football and basketball programs to be more significant on college campuses than academics, to now act as if it had no role in the misguided direction college sports has taken. The NCAA has encouraged big-time, high-dollar college athletics, and now is trying to do damage control in the wake of the Sandusky case.
Penn State football became bigger than anything on its campus, including protecting children. That allowed Sandusky to repeat his terrible abuse over many years. Those who allowed him to continue must be held responsible.
It's time for the criminal justice system to act.