Tate: Punishment worse than 'death penalty'
The Happy Valley community feared Penn State might receive football's "death penalty."
National columnists, analysts and myriad voices tried to set a tone favoring the cancellation of games in 2012. If the NCAA wouldn't do it, ESPN's Ian O'Connor demanded that Penn State leaders "take a season off and realign the school's moral compass."
The Atlantic called for Nittany Lion football to be shut down permanently. No more games. Forever!
ESPN's bombastic Stephen A. Smith said five years wouldn't be too much and, if the NCAA or school officials wouldn't do it, the Pennsylvania state legislature should.
Mark Emmert and the NCAA hierarchy ruled otherwise. But they felt the pressure. And they decimated the program. What they imposed Monday could, in the long term, be worse than a three-month hiatus.
A one-year "death penalty," taken by itself, would allow for a fresh start in November. Emmert's announced penalties are devastatingly long-lasting.
As it stands now, look ahead to 2015. The Nittany Lions still won't be eligible for postseason play.
Consider 2019. The junior and senior classes, based on their original limits of 15 scholarships, will be among the nation's smallest and probably weakest.
This is not, as it has been described, a four-year penalty. It's more like seven or eight, with longer-term repercussions.
Money? According to a recent budget, the football program grossed $72 million and netted $53 million. That money is needed to run the 29-sport operation, and Emmert decreed that neither non-revenue programs nor their scholarships can be cut. The $60 million fine — and $13 million from four years of Big Ten bowl payouts — will fund an endowment to prevent child sexual abuse.
This $60 million will preferably be derived from the university's fundraising enterprise which, by the way, took in $88 million from a single family this past year to institute varsity hockey.
More dollars will be needed for a mandatory campus oversight program. And the university is bracing for a multi-year legal assault by those wronged by Jerry Sandusky, that figure possibly reaching $350 million. The anticipated shortfall will presumably be handled by the state.
This whole mess could approach a half-billion dollars, all of which could have been avoided by a five-minute telephone call.
Defections? This will be closely watched. The NCAA ruling allows all members of the football squad, including freshmen in the process of reporting for practice, to transfer without penalty ... to receive scholarships elsewhere and be eligible for postseason play. Loyalty to the program will be tested. And Bill O'Brien's future recruiting will be severely hampered.
Vacated victories? They can change the win total by 111 games but it's not much of a penalty. They know who won the games. The fans have memorized Joe Paterno's number (409). The Nittany Lions can't claim last October's 10-7 victory against Illinois but — this always seemed strange — the Illini don't get to count it as a victory. Neither side won.
A point to remember: This wasn't the customary, drawn-out Infractions Committee operation. The response by Emmert & Co. was stunningly swift, resolving issues prior to the start of the 2012 season. The sanctions were based on conclusions by the Freeh report, which was authorized and directed by the Penn State Board of Trustees. In other words, Freeh's accusations of cover-up amounted to an official admission by the school.
In a sense, Emmert sent a shot across the bow, a wake-up call to every university where the culture of football is out of balance with the educational side.
Will these severe sanctions affect cultural change? What do you think? Haven't we just announced that in 2014 the plus-one playoff will put more dollars in the pot after two semifinal bowl games? Are we to presume that Alabama and LSU, and their followers, will put less emphasis on football this season? You know the answer.
The Nittany Lions will operate in the face of a multi-year handicap, and will be hard-pressed to rebound. Southern Cal has done it, though from lesser sanctions. The Trojans received a two-year bowl ban and the loss of 30 scholarships, and here they are: ranked No. 1 in some polls and receiving commitments from the nation's most imposing recruiting class in 2013.
From the top down
As for Paterno, the late coach's legacy — this is, after all, nothing more than public opinion — has been destroyed. There was no choice other than to remove his statue.
From this viewpoint, JoePa outlived his time. In recent years he was too addled, too removed from reality, too insulated, too challenged by physical setbacks to have a full grasp of what was happening.
In his late years, while he was nationally revered, it isn't even clear he had charge of the day-to-day operations of the football team. Sure, he was the spokesman, but his coordinators were calling the plays and making key decisions on Saturdays. They were carrying out the Paterno system by habit.
There should be no hurry for the NCAA to sanction former President Graham Spanier and his administrative go-alongs Gary Schultz and Tim Curley. Like Paterno, their handling of the Sandusky episode has already destroyed their reputations, even though Spanier continues to claim that he was not privy to the precise information. The legal arm takes care of these three. They are dead insofar as future work in higher education. Emmert is smart to let the legal aspect play out.
So, while Emmert's sanctions may be deemed too severe, he gets high marks for his handling of the case. It was appropriate that the NCAA not break Penn State's contracts with Navy, Illinois, Nebraska and the rest, It didn't make sense to punish the hotels and restaurants and businesses, to punish the TV networks and other broadcasting entities, to punish the students and marching band members ... or the longtime fans who have expanded seven Saturdays into weekend vacations alongside Beaver Stadium.
And while the athletes have been restricted, they still have an opportunity to compete.
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.