Acting National

We live in a federal republic, or so the Federalist Papers tried to persuade those Americans on the fence about adopting the Constitution. Trying to tell the difference between a nation and a federation can be tough. In fact, the Anti-Federalists, those who opposed the slightest hint of political centralization, thought the federalists should really be called “nationalists” because the government they proposed was more national than federal. (A federation recognizes the sovereignty of member states, a nation places the state governments in some subjection to the national government.)

When President Obama issued a executive order recently about bathrooms, you could plausibly argue that the president was acting national. Acting federal might have required working with Congress (with its representatives from the states). Or perhaps the president could have called a governors’ conference.

Because of the confusion surrounding “national” and “federal,” it was heartening to see the NCAA put the national in National Collegiate Athletic Association:

The National Collegiate Athletic Association announced Monday evening that it is moving seven championship events that had been scheduled to take place in North Carolina to other states. The NCAA cited North Carolina’s antigay law, which bars all local laws that protect people from discrimination based on sexual orientation, and the ban on transgender people using state organizations’ bathrooms that reflect their identities.

No ambiguity there. The national body rules what the local bodies may or may not do.

Washington D.C. still wrestles with the ambiguity. After all, it is the United States of America not United State of America (that would be redundant).

Sanctification NCAA-Style

The deity of American athletics, also known as the NCAA, has decided to lift some of the restrictions on Penn State football:

George Mitchell, the former U.S. senator who is now Penn State’s independent athletics integrity monitor (a position created after the scandal to improve campus sports culture), said that after his first annual review of Penn State’s progress he determined the NCAA should “recognize and reward” the administration’s “good-faith effort” to change.

At Mitchell’s suggestion, the NCAA Executive Committee and the Big Ten Conference agreed to restore the scholarships that were revoked in response to last year’s Freeh Report. The findings of former FBI director Louis J. Freeh detailed the cultural and administrative failings that helped enable Sandusky to use his status as a former coach to rape children for years, sometimes on university property.

Initially, the NCAA said Penn State could award just 65 total football scholarships per year through 2017-18, significantly fewer than the 85 that programs at its level are used to handing out. But now, Penn State will receive an additional five scholarships each year through 2016-17. So essentially, the NCAA returned 20 scholarships it had taken away.

“This action provides an opportunity to recognize Penn State’s significant momentum, while also providing additional opportunities for student-athletes,” said Nathan Hatch, chair of the Division I Board of Directors and president of Wake Forest University.

(Yes, that Nathan Hatch.)

This makes me wonder if that Penn State stays on the course of institutional sanctification, will the NCAA reward Coach Bill O’Brien with W’s from their treasury of victories? They have 111 at their disposal.

Why the NBA is Unwatchable

A meeting of a Presbyterian conclave (actually a standing committee of the OPC General Assembly) back the capital of American Presbyterianism (actually a suburb) has afforded (all about) me the opportunity to catch up on the media. The flights from Detroit to Philadelphia were either too expensive or too long so I decided to drive. On the trip East I listened to a discussion of the papacy on On Point that gave voice to Roman Catholics in the U.S. seldom heard at the Callers. On the drive back I listened to a great interview with Scott Manetsch about his new book on the Company of Pastors in Geneva.

The trip tonight placed (all about) me in a town outside Cleveland. The Cavs’ game against the Heat was televised locally. This was a contest that gave the Cleveland franchise a chance to pay back Lebron James if the lowly Cavs could rise up and end the Heat’s winning streak. I don’t watch televised sports much anymore but I warmed up to the idea of watching an upset. When the Cavs went up by 27 in the first half, I thought my joy might be complete.

And then I saw Chris Anderson with all his tats and hair. He is to the NBA what Fawn Knudsen was to the Big Lebowski. He also represents a form of physical exhibitionism that must be comparable to what you — I guess — see at a strip club.

With the Division II season finished, that leaves March Madness with its own hype and all those commercials to fill the void. I am not sure it will ever be full for a guy who grew up with only sixteen teams making it to the tournament and who had to wait for the morning news to find out what happened to the Sweet Sixteen and the Elite Eight since none of the games were televised. This is the same guy who listens to podcasts on a Walkman (which I hear brings me up to date with the Second Iraq War).

Maybe the only remedy is the NIT.

Mark Emmert, the Avon Barksdale of College Athletics

Christians, Mormons, Muslims, and Jews worried about the spread of moral relativism in the United States should be encouraged by the sanctions against Penn State imposed this morning by the NCAA (which include vacating all of Joe Paterno’s victories between 1998 and 2011). Granted, Americans show no consensus on gay marriage or abortion, but with slavery and racism now child molestation also is settled. Actually, instead of being relativistic, Americans are morally rigid about most matters. Even pro-choice advocates are emphatic about the moral good of a woman’s right to choose, as well as the immorality of the pro-life position. The problem in the United States is not a lack of morality. It is that most every issue comes in either black or white. This means that a lack of moral consensus among Americans is to put it mildly, contested.

What is less clear is whether Americans are capable of distinguishing among the depravity of various vices the way, say, the Shorter Catechism talks about some transgressions of the law being more heinous in the sight of God than others. The case of Joe Paterno is proof. The overwhelming condemnation of the recently deceased coach would tempt a visitor from Mars to think that Paterno himself had molested the boys who came through Penn State’s football facility. But covering up a felony is not the same level of offense as committing a felony. Just ask Chuck Colson and Richard Nixon.

The laws of Indiana, the site of NCAA headquarters, may be instructive here (even though they played no role in Mark Emmert’s decision to punish Penn State and the reputation of Joe Paterno. Child molestation is a Class A felony in Indiana and is punishable by a sentence of a minimum of six years in prison (according to a 2000 summary). Perjury, on the other hand, is a Class D felony in Indiana and brings with it up to ten months in prison and a possible fine of $10,000. It is fairly clear that Paterno did not commit child molestation. The worst that he did was to lie before the Grand Jury, a difference between a Class A and Class D felony (it would seem to this legally challenged observer). If his offense was simply not reporting Sandusky, Indiana law classifies this as a Class B misdemeanor, which could bring a fine of $1,000 and a prison sentence of up to 180 days.

But this is all based on Indiana law, the jurisdiction where Mark Emmert and his colleagues work. According to one story from last fall, Pennsylvania has no law requiring persons to report child abuse.

What this suggests is that the NCAA is a lot harder on crime than the states themselves which have law enforcement officers with real guns and facilities with real bars and really sharp barbed wire. That may be a good thing, though I can’t imagine Emmert taking away JoePa’s wins if the coach were still alive. (The courage of the NCAA only goes so far.) But it does confirm my impression, after several viewings of The Wire, that justice mediated the state is more forgiving than justice executed outside the law. For anyone who challenged Avon or Marlo, eliminating the challenger’s existence was the only way to maintain order. But inside the agencies of the police, public school teachers, city administration, or journalism, if you violated procedures or lied to bosses, you got a reassignment, a demotion, or at worst lost your job. But unlike Barksdale’s lieutenants who cheated their boss, if you lied to the city editor of the Sunpapers about your source, you lived to see another day.

After today’s actions, the NCAA appears to exhibit a form of justice much closer to drug dealers than to civil authorities. Unfortunately for Paterno, he is not alive to see a day on his calendar that includes a visit to Emmert’s office in Indianapolis.