Sanctions handed down to Penn State by the NCAA were appropriate and sent a larger message.
The devastating punishment meted out by the NCAA to Penn State University on Monday was intended to send a message before the college football world spirals further out of control.
Those who complain that the NCAA should have given Penn State the so-called death penalty and suspended the football program for a year merely quibble. The sanctions handed down by the NCAA will likely cripple one of the nation's marquee college programs for years. And no amount of punishment can restore the innocence to those who were assaulted by former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, whose abuse was covered up by some of the top officials at the university. A part of Joe Paterno's staff for 30 years until his retirement in 1999, Sandusky is awaiting sentencing after being convicted last month of sexually abusing 10 boys over 15 years.
Among the sanctions are a $60 million fine, roughly equivalent to a year's football revenue; 112 vacated wins from 1998-2011; a loss of scholarships that limits the program to 65 total per season from the 2014 through 2017 seasons (other teams have 85); a 4-year postseason ban; and a waiver that allows current Penn State players to transfer schools immediately without sitting out a year.
Additionally, the Big Ten announced that Penn State's share of bowl revenue — about $13 million over four years — will instead be donated to "charitable organizations in Big Ten communities dedicated to the protection of children."
Besides the NCAA fine and the bowl money withheld by the Big Ten, there could be hundreds of millions of dollars in awards for civil suits.
Perhaps no one has ever fallen further in a shorter amount of time than Paterno, who died of lung cancer in January at 85. A Hall of Fame coach who led all Division I college football coaches in victories, Paterno was stripped of 111 victories and had his statue removed from campus. His legacy, which includes much good, is shattered.
Sports scandals are nothing new, but the egregious wrongdoing in the Penn State scandal was different from any situation the NCAA had confronted before, and the organization reacted uncharacteristically.
NCAA President Mark Emmert fast-tracked the sanctions, bypassing the lengthy investigations and hearings the NCAA usually engages in before issuing findings and sanctions. The NCAA had available to it the investigation commissioned by Penn State and released last week. The report found that Paterno and three other top university officials concealed accusations against Sandusky to shield the football program and school from bad publicity.
Emmert said the organization wanted sanctions that would change the culture of football on the campus.
"Football will never again be placed ahead of educating, nurturing and protecting young people," Emmert said.
Just as important, and surely intended, is the message the Penn State penalties send to the college football world.
Football is king on many college campuses. At the big-time schools, it's a money-making machine that supports other sports, deifies coaches, brings dollars to communities, earns the adoration of students and fans and brings in contributions from alumni.
The temptation to cut corners, to bend or break the rules, to stay on top or try to get there, is intense.
In the last few years, some of the most powerful programs in college football have been sanctioned — Southern Cal, Ohio State, Alabama. Now with Penn State, the NCAA has tried to send an unequivocal message to universities — keep control of your programs.
This situation gave the organization a chance to reassert control over major football programs that are becoming increasingly powerful and professionalized.
But the NCAA itself through its member schools is complicit in the continuing escalation in the staggering amounts of money involved in college football, from TV deals to conference realignments to a playoff system to be adopted in a couple of years.
Whether the Penn State penalties will change the culture of football on college campuses remains to be seen. And to be sure, not all football programs operate outside the rules.
Our fear is that once the rawness of the Penn State sanctions has died down, not much will have changed in college football generally, but perhaps no school will take the risk Penn State chose to take.