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Further Interpretation Needed For a Penn State Foreign Tour

Earlier this week I explained why Ohio State could not be let back into the Big Ten Championship Game this year because the NCAA’s postseason ban covers the game. That case was pretty clear given the wording the NCAA used in sanctioning the Buckeyes. Penn State head football coach Bill O’Brien brought up a murkier question:

What most people immediately landed on was the idea that Penn State would play a regular season game overseas, like Navy and Notre Dame did this year in Ireland. That would be permissible. But the tougher question and more intriguing possibility is whether Penn State can take an out-of-season foreign tour during its postseason ban. That means extra practice, an extra game or two, and could even be played during the bowl season.

Unlike Ohio State, Penn State’s sanctions do not include a ban on using exemptions for extra contests or to play outside the normal playing season:

Therefore, the University’s football team shall end its 2012 season and each season through 2015 with the playing of its last regularly scheduled, in-season contest and shall not be eligible to participate in any postseason competition, including a conference championship, any bowl game, or any post-season playoff competition.

That would seem to allow Penn State to take a foreign tour. And in any other sport, it would. But football has an additional restriction on foreign tours:

Bylaw – Football Postseason Opportunity
A foreign football tour shall be considered that institution’s postseason opportunity for that season, the accounting period to commence with the start of the institution’s normal beginning of fall football practice.

This is why football teams rarely take foreign tours. But it also may prevent Penn State from taking a foreign tour. Penn State would need clarification on whether the fact that is has no postseason opportunities through 2015 prevents it forfeiting those postseason opportunities to go on a foreign tour.

On the one hand, a foreign tour to say Mexico to beat up on a foreign team while spending a week in Cancun and getting 10 additional practices would make it pretty clear the foreign tour is an attempt to get around the sanctions. On the other hand, foreign tours are allowed as cultural experiences, and Penn State’s could be crafted as such. Witness Drake’s trip to Africa last year.

It’s a tough spot for the NCAA, trying to balance enforcing Penn State’s sanctions while minimizing the impact on student-athletes as much as possible. If Penn State pitched a foreign tour like Drake’s and not one like the quick trips many basketball programs take, more good than harm would come if the NCAA allowed the team to go.

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