Sports | The death of amateurism in college sports

How the Penn State scandal let everyone down

For years, the facade of amateurism in college football has been crumbling. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) hides behind the sentiment that college football programs exist in order to foster a spirit of amateur competition, creating well-rounded individuals (some of whom may go onto the professional leagues). In other words, they claim to foster an innocent, ideal sports environment. That might’ve been realistic in the 1950s, when college football wasn’t such a business: today’s landscape is very different.

These days, the dollar is more important than anything else, and greed has destroyed the spirit of college football. The football programs today make tons of money from football, and having a good football team is critical to creating revenue for most major conference schools. With the rise in the game’s profitability, the idea that the players are amateur student athletes has become a joke.

This has never been more apparent than with the recent developments in the case of Jerry Sandusky, the former defensive coordinator at Penn State. Sandusky has been charged with forty counts of sexual crimes against underage boys, most of whom he met while running a youth-welfare program called “The Second Mile.” Sandusky used his position at the charity to gain access to young boys, and then sexually abuse them. Only slightly less horrifying than these charges was the effort by Penn State administrators to hide the incidents, choosing to put the football program over everything, including basic morality.

The cover up is shameful: in 2002, a Penn State graduate assistant came into the football facilities late one night and witnessed Sandusky raping a boy in the showers. Soon after, the assistant informed the head coach, Joe Paterno. Paterno was the coach at Penn State for 46 years before his recent firing; he had morphed into the face of the football team, and, by extension, the university. He was revered by his adherence for doing things “the right way”– he made sure his players got an education, he recruited cleanly, and acted as a father figure to many players and the school as a whole. His actions in this scandal, though, proved his fallibility.

After receiving a report from the graduate assistant, Paterno sat on the revelation for ten days before telling what he knew to his athletic director, Tim Curley. Curley and the Senior Vice President of Business and Finance, Bill Schultz, later met with the graduate assistant and told him that they would look into the matter. Curley also notified the President of the university, Graham Spanier, of the report. As the story moved up the chain of command, up through every administrative level of the university, the police were never notified. Sandusky had his access to the locker rooms taken away. That was all.

Every person who knew of the crimes decided that protecting the Penn State football program was more important than protecting Sandusky’s victims. The lucrative business of the program disrupted their morality. All these men, under Pennsylvania law, did the bare minimum of what they had to do in this situation (in reporting it to a superior), but this was a crime where the bare minimum was nowhere close to enough. If there was any doubt before, well, now we know: whatever amateur spirit college football had left is now dead.

Almost every major program in the NCAA has been caught for recruiting or program infractions, in which schools (or their wealthy alumni boosters) give money or gifts to players and their families in order to lure them to their school. Despite the fact that this practice has become the norm, Penn State is one of the two teams to have never been caught for recruiting or program infractions. However, the current Penn State scandal shows that even this model program has deep flaws, making the case all the more discouraging. It goes far beyond pure greed – it is an elimination of humanity by the program in order to safeguard their cash cow. If it could happen at Penn State – a school that was revered for never having committed any recruiting violations – we can only ask, where does it end?

The spirit of amateurism in the NCAA has been dying for quite some time; with this breakdown of moral decency, the final nail can be hammered into the coffin. We can stop pretending that the NCAA is anything more than a cold, emotionless business. It’s not about the players, or school pride, or any other naive ideal. These schools are in it for the money, which they hold above anything else.

Evan Dent is a sports columnist for The McGill Daily. His column is  from the fan’s perspective. You can see him at Champs every Sunday watching the Buffalo Bills play. He can be reached at

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