The Chronicle of Higher Education reports today that the Big Ten Conference is considering a proposal to give Jim Delaney the power to fire coaches as well as expel a school from the conference. This isn't just a response to the scandal at Penn State but also the Tattoo-gate situation at Ohio State. Delaney would have the ability to institute "financial penalties, suspension, or termination of employment". It would not be for wins/losses...or even "gravitating towards mediocrity" for that matter. It would be for egregious cases where actions have compromised the school itself, and would be wielded only in extreme situations.
That's a sobering thought. While Nebraska fans respect Delaney, he won't be commissioner forever. Here's the scary thought: what if the Big XII had that rule, and Dan Beebe had that power. Suddenly someone in Austin gets a hair-brained idea and suddenly Beebe is firing or suspending people across the conference.
The Penn State scandal has broken new lows in corruption in college athletics. Many people are calling for the school to be sanctioned by the NCAA or Big Ten, but the power to do this isn't clear. The people in charge at Penn State didn't violate NCAA rules, they violated criminal laws. They violated laws of human decency.
I understand the outrage over what happened. I share it. I felt last season's Nebraska/Penn State game should have been cancelled. But what happened at Penn State isn't a football or athletics violation.
It's a criminal situation. Jerry Sandusky has been convicted. Two other Penn State officials still await trials on their complicity. From what I've read, former Penn State chancellor Graham Spanier should be charged as well. If he weren't already dead, Joe Paterno would probably be as well. And there's probably others that could or should be charged as well.
Is this an NCAA or Big Ten issue? I shudder to think about it, for fear of how this power could be abused in future cases. It may make sense to have a process to deal with extraordinary situations where something needs to be done...but isn't for whatever reason that is. Say Jim Tressel had decided to stay on at Ohio State rather than resign. If Gordon Gee didn't feel capable of taking charge of the situation (which he appeared not to be), somebody has to. And maybe it should be the Big Ten...but only with enough checks and balances to make sure that this extraordinary power is only wielded as a last resort.
As for Penn State, I'm still leaning towards letting the courts take care of this. The people responsible were fired, and will suffer the consequences of their actions (or inactions). The school is going to be liable for a breathtakingly large civil penalty once all of Sandusky's victims make their claims. It will be very difficult for Penn State to shake the scarlet letter "P" (for pervert) that they will wear for years.
I will say this: if this really is an NCAA or Big Ten issue and if Penn State needs to be sanctioned for what happened, there is only one question. It's not if Penn State suffers the Death Penalty. It's how long will that penalty be applied.