At 9 A.M. this morning the NCAA deservedly delivered one of its two harshest punishments ever (the Southern Methodist University football program’s 2 year “Death Penalty” as the other) and in the process crippled a program that deserves all the sanctions in the world. Of course, I’m referring to Penn State University football and their harboring of the now-convicted felon by the name of Jerry Sandusky. Sandusky will spend the rest of his life in prison, the chief individual responsible for the cover-up of his heinous crimes (Joe Paterno) is now dead, and other top officials formerly with Penn State still have charges pending in the justice system, so this story is not over yet but today is a huge step forward for college athletics as we know it. Hopefully it is also a day that the victims of Jerry Sandusky can find a bit of solace and finally have what little bit of closure than a public reprimand of the once beloved Nittany Lions can provide.
As you read this, remember that it is only football we’re talking about. The victims in this case are the real story and what they went through in the locker room showers, in Sandusky’s basement, on road trips with the team, and wherever else this disgusting pervert abused children is something that should not happen to anybody. To lose sight of the real issue here, the child molestation of at least 14 kids and the ensuing cover-up by people who should have known better, would be ignorant, neglectful, and downright wrong. Today the NCAA, a sport governing body in charge of all collegiate athletics, issued their punishment to the football program that allowed this disgusting activity to continue. That’s great for the NCAA, but it’s only a game and a business that we’re talking about today. Real life, the criminal justice system for everyone involved, and the awareness of child sexual abuse is what is important here. This blog entry is focusing on what today’s sanctions mean to Penn State and to college athletics in general, but before I get into that please take a second to pray for the victims of this and any other child abuse, sexual or otherwise, because as former Nittany Lion linebacker Matt Millen said, “if we can’t protect our kids, we, as a society, are pathetic”. Well, Mr. Millen, our society and the culture of winning at all-costs failed at least 14 kids and their families, and there is nothing more pathetic than that.
Since news broke in November about the cowardly acts of Sandusky, Paterno, and everyone else involved in this horrific sexual abuse scandal, people from all walks of life have been trying to figure out exactly how this happened and what could have been done to stop it. Too many people dropped the ball in this case, and I’ve already gotten into some of it here, but there is plenty of blame to go around still. Yesterday, Penn State finally took action for the first time since firing Paterno (besides commissioning Louis Freeh for his necessary and informative look into the program over the past 14 years) and decided to take down the statue to their idol, Joe Paterno. Now, even as somebody involved in the sport industry, I find it very silly for an academic institution to have a statue of a football coach on its campus (and yes, I know my alma-mater has a statue of Bobby Bowden). Yesterday, among all these allegations and turmoil, Penn State decided to take down that statue and place it in a “secure location”. Just about 24 hours later, the NCAA decided to take much more serious measures, issuing today’s sanctions.
What exactly did the NCAA do today? They specifically handed down four punishments to Penn State University and even more specifically the Nittany Lions football program. Instead of issuing a “death penalty” in which the NCAA prohibits a team from playing for at least a year, the governing body allowed the team to continue to compete but with some very limiting restrictions. First of all, and probably least importantly, Penn State was fined $60 million by the NCAA, money that will go into an endowment for “external programs preventing child abuse or assisting victims and may not be used to fund such programs at the university”. While this sounds like a lot of money, it is supposed to be equal to one year’s gross revenue of the Penn State football program. This fine will be spread out over a 5 year period and will probably pale in comparison to the money that victims are paid out through civil court over the next decade or so as a result of Sandusky’s actions.
Secondly, Penn State has been banned from bowl games or any other postseason play for a period of four years. This ban makes it tough for new coach Bill O’Brien to recruit the best athletes, who want the top exposure and to play in big games, and now Penn State will not be allowed to compete in the Rose Bowl or any other postseason game. The Big 10 has added to this punishment and has decided to not allow the Nittany Lions to compete in the league’s championship game while they are ineligible for any bowl games, and the league has also taken away the revenue sharing from Penn State that each school in the conference usually receives at the end of the year for making bowl games (an estimated $13 million over that time).
Thirdly, and the sanction that have the most impact on Penn State moving forward, is that the NCAA limited the number of scholarships that the program can hand out. For the next four years Penn State will only have 65 scholarships available (every non-punished Division 1-A school has 85 available, Division 1-AA has 65). The 10 initial and 20 overall scholarships per year will make it tough for Penn State to compete and leaves very little quality depth on their bench, that is if they are able to attract any elite level players anyway. Also, about players and scholarships, players on the current roster are free to transfer to other schools without the typical 1 year penalty associated with transferring, but since we’re within 6 weeks of the season it is very probable that we won’t see mass transfers until after this season.
Finally, we get to the issue that most directly impacts the leader of the Nittany Lions, the late Joe Paterno. The former coach today had 111 wins stricken from his (and the school’s record) and the man who was the winningest Division I coach in history at this time yesterday is now #12. Officially, Paterno now has only has 298 wins, and Florida State’s legendary coach Bobby Bowden becomes the official leader with 377 wins (and 12 additional victories that were vacated himself). Bowden and Paterno both hung on too long trying to get that stupid wins record, and today Bowden “earned” it while on the golf course. Bowden has since said that he “hates the way all of this has happened”, and Coach, I think we all do.
The NCAA acted quickly for once with this issue, and they even admitted that they may have overstepped their boundaries since the legal process has not concluded with some key individuals related to this case. NCAA President, Mark Emmert, today also admitted that the commissioned Freeh Report was more informative and thorough than any investigation the NCAA has ever done, and the information discovered by that investigation certainly played a key part in the “unprecedented” punishments handed down today. Emmert kept the door open in regards to sanctioning individuals responsible for the cover-up at a later time after the legal process has played out, but I think it’s safe to say that Tim Curley and Gary Schultz will never be allowed near an NCAA affiliated program again, and neither should former President Graham Spanier.
At about 9:30 this morning, Penn State was probably hoping that they did receive the “Death Penalty” as these sanctions will have a profound impact on their football program for many years to come. Not as many years as the victims have had to endure anguish and pain, but Happy Valley isn’t so happy today. Today’s ruling is one of the most meaningful punishments that any athletic governing body has ever handed down, and for once I want to give the NCAA credit for something that they’ve done.