Actions of Penn State, Sandusky Were Heinous but Is Punishment Deserved?

Adam Kramer@kegsneggsNational College Football Lead WriterJuly 23, 2012

STATE COLLEGE, PA - JULY 21:  The statue of former Penn State University football coach Joe Paterno stands outside Beaver Stadium July 21, 2012 in State College, Pennsylvania. Penn State's president Rodney Erickson is expected to make a decision on whether or not to remove the statue in the wake of the child sex scandal of former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. It's believed that Paterno had detailed knowledge of Jerry Sandusky sexually abusing children before and after Sandusky retired from coaching at Penn State.  (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

At the same moment that Joe Patreno’s statue was being unhooked from the earth, covered with a blanket and taken away into isolation, it surfaced that the NCAA’s decision regarding punishments and sanctions for the Penn State University football team would not be far behind. Just about 24 hours, to be exact.

The promptness was not necessarily news, although NCAA president Mark Emmert’s sudden acquisition of absolute power certainly was. The NCAA doesn’t typically work with such haste (the Miami and Oregon files are still sitting comfortably on his desk), but then again, the Penn State-Sandusky situation is unlike anything we’ve ever seen and any ruling they’ve had to make.

Still, however, Emmert’s sudden rise to lead decision-maker is a terrifying precedent. And as one regime crumbles, a new one emerges from the dust. We didn’t need someone to douse the remaining rubble in gasoline and light a match—there’s really not much left to burn—but that’s exactly the power Emmert (courtesy of the NCAA Board of Directors) was granted.

The typical path to infractions was avoided, in large part because of the detailed and university-funded Freeh Report, and one man was handed a hammer. So he swung away.

Although the death penalty was not implemented, the school perhaps wishes it was. Sanctions from the NCAA include (via a $60 million fine (with money going to a fund for victims of sexual abuse), a four-year bowl ban, major scholarship losses (only 65 available over next four years) and five years of probation.

Make no mistake about it: This is what the death penalty looks like in 2012. The Penn State football team will be allowed to compete in the regular season for the coming years, but the word “compete” has never seemed so distant.

This is not a four or five-year struggle, but instead will impact the university and its football team for decades. They may never recover. “Never” isn’t a word I throw around often, but it’s also never felt so appropriate.

As for the executioner: Mark Emmert was put in an impossible situation. Too much punishment and he’s a barbarian. Too little, and he’s letting a contingent of monsters that shielded a child molester “off easy.” It’s convenient to criticize his decisions—and we, the collective Internet message board, will—but it’s certainly not a job or verdict I envy.

There’s no easy answer when it comes to punishment, and this entire situation is still impossible to evaluate. Was this something much, much larger than a football issue that warrants a grander response? No question. Was this deeply entrenched in the football program and covered up by those leading at the time? Absolutely.

Because the NCAA decided to impose sanctions, they had to make them crippling. Anything beyond nuclear would have seemed insignificant given the nature of these crimes and the victims involved. The problem, however, and this is nothing new, that those impacted by these sanctions will not include the guilty parties.

This is the nature of how the NCAA punishes. It is not fair, not in the least bit. There are fifth and sixth-graders out there who will feel the ramifications of this decision (and the horrible actions of one, and the inaction of a few more). They, much like the new coaching staff and leadership in place, will be forced to pick up the pieces. There won’t be much to pick up.

In past cases—and make no mistake about it, this is unlike any case in NCAA history—a precedent was set to deter others from following the same path. Don’t compare this to USC, who’s just coming out of the other side of its NCAA sanctions. Or SMU, who serves as the poster child for non-compliance. They were made examples of to deter others from following their lead.

The NCAA has decided to make an example out of Penn State and have cemented that legal just isn’t enough. This is more than just punishing a pedophile and those who kept his secrets tucked away. This is a statement that no man (or team) is above the well-being of anyone, especially children.

It’s a precedent that has been set by one man, Mark Emmert, and it will likely define his career when it’s all said and done.

The hammer has been dropped, regardless of whether you thought it was warranted or not, and those left to feel its wrath had nothing to do with the horrible events that transpired. This is nothing new, but that doesn’t make it any easier to accept.