With Jerry Sandusky convicted and slated to be sentenced on child sexual abuse charges, all that was left was to address the issue of Joe Paterno and sanctions against Penn State. Joe Pa's dead, leaving the only thing anyone can do is make sure the legacy he left behind was tempered with the acknowledgement of what he failed to do: properly respond to and treat seriously those allegations of child sexual abuse made against Sandusky. Instead, Joe Pa opted to place preservation of the football program and university's reputation above protecting those who need protection most.
Ironically, that practically insured that his own reputation and that of the program and school would pay dearly. For example, take a look at the memorial created in honor of Paterno's coaching. Leaving it up would have satisfied die-hard Penn State fans still in denial over what has happened, but it would have flown in the face of countless victims who suffered under Sandusky's predations and Paterno's inaction. Chances are it would have been vandalized sooner or later. Now, it's a bitter reminder of how covering up a scandal can cause tremendous pain and suffering to the victims, their families, fans and the program itself.
I'll disclose right here and now that I'm not a big college football fan, despite coming from a state where "Go Tigers!" and "Roll Tide Roll" are almost religious mantras, with Jordan-Hare and Bryant-Denny serving as the sacred altars upon which any Auburn or Alabama fan worth his or her colors pay reverence upon bended knee. I can't say the cult-like following surrounding Joe Paterno and the Nittany Lions is exactly comparable to Alabama fans' slavish devotion to all that is Bear Bryant, but I'll go out on a limb and ask myself this question: would Alabama fans and officials react the same way if Bear knew about similar allegations against his assistant coach and did nothing about it?
As a result of this scandal and in addition to an ongoing DOE investigation for violations of the Clery Act, the NCAA considered sanctions against Penn State, one of which happens to be the infamous "death penalty." Here's a quick primer on what the "death penalty" entails:
The death penalty is the popular term for the National Collegiate Athletic Association's power to ban a school from competing in a sport for at least one year. It is the harshest penalty that an NCAA member school can receive.
The NCAA has always had the power to ban an institution from competing in a particular sport. However, in 1985, in response to rampant violations at several schools, the NCAA Council passed the "repeat violator" rule. The rule stipulates that if a second major violation occurs at any institution within five years of being on probation in the same sport or another sport, that institution can be barred from competing in the sport involved in the second violation for either one or two seasons. In cases of particularly egregious misconduct, a school can also be stripped of its right to vote at NCAA conventions for four years. The severity of the penalty led the media to dub it "the death penalty," and the nickname has persisted to this day.
It's called the "death penalty" because the sanctions often leave college football programs sucking wind, if they remain in existence, far beyond the ban period. Penn State fans have good reason to worry.
The NCAA didn't issue the dreaded "death penalty." Instead, the organization opted to hand down sanctions that have plenty of their own far-reaching repercussions:
- Penn State faces a $60 million sanction, equivalent to the average gross annual revenue of the football program. Those funds go towards an endowment for outside programs preventing child sexual abuse and helping victims of such abuse. Penn State cannot use those funds for programs at the university.
- Penn State's football team is banned from postseason play and appearances for four years.
- All of Joe Paterno's wins from 1998 through 2011 were vacated, meaning he officially has no wins under his name from the time he became aware of and ignored child sexual abuse allegations to his firing in late 2011.
- Penn State must reduce 10 initial scholarships, plus 20 total scholarships each year for a four-year period. In other words, Penn State loses 90 scholarships for the full period and 90 chances to woo football prospects with full-ride scholarships. As CNN explains it:
That means the football program can only offer the equivalent of 15 full scholarships to incoming freshmen or transfer students per year for four years beginning with the 2013-14 academic year and can only offer 65 full scholarships total each year beginning with the 2014-15 academic year. Scholarships may be divided among players as partial scholarships.
- The Big Ten Conference added its own sanctions. For starters, Penn State is banned from playing in the Big Ten conference title game during the four-year ban. The university won't be able to share in the conference bowl revenues, either. Instead, the $13 million in revenues it would usually see will instead go towards children's charities.
- NCAA President Mark Emmert gave Penn State players card blanche to transfer to other universities if they wish, without losing their eligibility. Other colleges can take these players, but only if they dock themselves the same number of players they accept next year.
So, what does this all mean? For starters, it means Penn State's chances of recruiting good players just turned to shit. Current players who are NFL material might not stick around, either. Penn State football's revenues will also be in the toilet for the next four years, making recruitment and athletic scholarship funding that much harder. The swift kick to the pocketbook also insures that other universities think twice about sweeping serious crimes under the rug. In a way, it means that instead of administering lethal injection to the football program, the NCAA effectively sentenced the football program to 25 to life, with possibility of parole.
The only silver lining for Penn State is that it might have a chance years afterward to make a smashing comeback, but I doubt Sandusky's victims give a damn about any of this, nor should they. By all means, the program should have been killed stone dead, but then the narrative would shift from making sure colleges don't cover up sexual abuse to the NCAA being "petty" and "vindictive" by shutting down Penn State football. That's the last thing anyone needs.
Meanwhile, Joe Paterno's legacy gets hit with a huge asterisk and deservedly so. For over a decade, this man decided that quietly ignoring his assistant coach's pedophiliac behavior and the pain suffered by his victims was a small price to pay for preserving the football program. For many people, these sanctions are just the tip of the iceberg as far as punishment is concerned.
Meanwhile, many Nittany Lions feel that zeroing out Paterno's wins also unfairly punishes the players and staff that wasn't involved in the scandal. Well, life isn't fair and I'm pretty sure both Sandusky and Paterno knew their actions would have far-reaching consequences for the program, players and fans.
ah crap... so i lost every college football game i ever played in?
— Evan Royster (@Evan_Royster) July 23, 2012
No, Paterno did. He lost every college football game he ever coached when he turned a blind eye to sexual abuse back in 1998. It's a shame the players have to be caught up in the wreckage, but again, life isn't fair.
For Sandusky's victims, none of this can ever make up for the pain and suffering he caused. It never will. At least no one will be able to pretend that these crimes never happened, as much as no one can pretend that the monument to Joe Pa never existed.
By the way, with Paterno's wins vacated, it means late Grambling State University coach Eddie Robinson is once again the winningest coach in Division I football.