On Thursday, the same day Louis Freeh, the former director of the F.B.I., issued his damning report about the cover-up of Jerry Sandusky’s sexual crimes by the Penn State hierarchy, the N.C.A.A. lowered the boom on — are you ready for this? — the California Institute of Technology.
One of the world’s great engineering schools, Caltech is never going to be mistaken for Penn State as an athletic force. With fewer than 1,000 undergraduates, it is a Division III school, which means, among other things, that it doesn’t grant athletic scholarships. Its basketball team ekes out about five wins a season, and its baseball team, according to The Times, has lost 227 games in a row. At Caltech, unlike your typical athletic powerhouse, “student-athletes” truly are students.
Part of being a student at Caltech means “shopping” for courses for the first three weeks of each trimester. Students are allowed to sample classes before they have to register for them. “During those three weeks,” read an N.C.A.A. press release issued on Thursday, “because they were not actually registered in some or all of the courses they are attending, some students were not enrolled on a full-time basis.” And part-time students, you see, are not allowed to play intercollegiate athletics. Between 2007 and 2010, according to the N.C.A.A., this happened with 30 athletes in 12 sports.
It would be hard to imagine a more frivolous violation of the rules — or one that could do less harm to the integrity of college sports. What’s more, Caltech turned itself in after a new athletic director realized that the practice of shopping for classes probably violated N.C.A.A. rules. Yet the punishment imposed on the school was severe: three years of probation, a postseason ban in a dozen sports, the erasure of wins and individual records that were gained with ineligible athletes, and more. Indeed, Caltech was cited for “a lack of institutional control,” which is pretty much the worst thing you can be accused of in N.C.A.A.-speak.”
If nothing happens to Penn State, let there be cries of outrage.