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VERN’S VIEW: Lessons writ large in sports scandal

Make no mistake, I am a sports nut. I love most sports and have played some of them fairly well. Children should participate in physical activity and sports wherever and whenever time, means or opportunities permit. We must retain our physical fitness to support our mental fitness.

That’s the theory.

Some pundits have decried the severe penalties imposed upon the Penn State football program as being too harsh for the crime. Excuse me? The sainted head coach covered the tracks of a criminal for years to avoid besmirching his precious football program. It is true coach Joe Paterno’s teams graduated more than 80 percent of the players with college degrees, far ahead of most state-supported universities in the nation. Yet, there was this cancer within the program that was destroying the minds and bodies of young children, and nobody did anything to stop it. Why?

Consider that the NCAA, the self-ordained watchdog of the multibillion-dollar college sports enterprise, levied the “death penalty” on Southern Methodist University’s football program for maintaining a slush fund that paid players.

Now consider that Penn State’s penalty didn’t destroy their football program, but cost it four bowl games, some scholarships, a $60 million fine payable over four years and a loss of Paterno’s victories over the years he covered up the scandal.

The NCAA abdicated punishment, balance and fairness, a stunner when one considers many boys are permanently scarred by a sexual predator within the Penn State football program. These are children — human beings —  we’re talking about. The crimes are felonies, not just paying some kid walking-around money. But hey, Penn State is a big-bucks generator for college football and the NCAA. It’s a good thing the University of Texas or the University of Michigan didn’t get hammered out of bowl games at the same time or the NCAA might just go bankrupt.

Speaking of bankrupt, consider the plantation known as the NCAA. The universities and the NCAA reap huge financial gains from the sweat of the athletes. The athletes spend as much time at practice as they do in class, sometimes more. Recent rule changes have limited practice time.

In addition to managing the enterprise, they restrict the rewards to the “players," aka farmhands, such that even the slightest whiff of irregularity brings sanctions and penalties upon that university. Yes, the student-athlete theoretically gets a college education for his or her efforts. That is payment enough, say the lords in Indianapolis.  OK. Then why do such a startlingly low percentage of male athletes earn degrees in the major, cash-cow university sports programs?

What is really important to the NCAA — money or athletes becoming educated? For all intents, the athletes are professionals given the fame that helps market them later in life, even if they don’t graduate or learn anything. It seems to me the plantation mentality of the NCAA favors cash generation more than it does moral judiciousness or an education for athletes.

Turner is a retired teacher and industrial engineer who lives near Marble Falls. He is an independent columnist, not a staff member, and his views do not necessarily reflect those of The Tribune or its parent company. "The Voter’s Guide to National Salvation" is a newly published e-book from Turner. You can find it at www.barnesandnoble.com/ebooks. He can be reached by email at vtgolf@zeecon.com.

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