Escaping Death: NCAA's Sanctions on Penn State Fit the Crime

Peter BukowskiSenior Analyst IJuly 23, 2012

STATE COLLEGE, PA - JULY 23:  A Penn State football player leaves the Mildred and Louis Lasch Football Building following a team meeting soon after the NCAA announced Sanctions on July 23, 2012 in State College, Pennsylvania. As an outcome of the university's mishandling of the allegations of child-sexual abuse by former coach Jerry Sandusky, Penn State was fined $60 million, was stripped of all its football wins from 1998 through 2011, barred from postseason games for four years, and lost 20 total scholarships annually for four seasons. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Count me among those who believed Penn State didn't deserve to play football next year or any time in the near future. 

I discounted the arguments about such a punishment being unfair to student athletes and the university by insisting such a short-sighted view failed to account for the complete control the university had over the situation and that such a power-play had to be punished in kind. 

Now that we've seen what the sanctions will be, that's exactly what happened. 

As my colleague Dan Levy points out, this is a punishment perhaps even worse than death. 

No one knows how devastating these fines will be to the Penn State football program, but what the NCAA did was wield a tremendously lucid understanding of what its role was in this case. 

The NCAA was not in a position to punish Penn State for unconscionable and unspeakable monstrosities committed at the hands of Jerry Sandusky. That's why we have a court system. 

Joe Paterno and the Penn State administration who covered up these heinous acts were acting out of selfishness and greed. 

This was about the money. 

A scandal like this shakes the very core of an institution. The moral dereliction of duty displayed in this cover up was justified in the minds of those involved because they understood if this ever got out, it would be the end of Penn State, the football heaven and Joe Paterno the angel of college football. 

No one was more acutely aware of this reality than Paterno himself, who, right up until the end, fought to use his football legacy to shield him from his obvious failure of leadership.

So when the NCAA levies a fine equal to the average annual revenues of the football program, it's a clear response: You made this about your legacy and about your money, so we will too.

No official death penalty could do any further damage to the Penn State image than has already been done.

In fact, with a program that is forced to limp along for the next half decade with fewer scholarships and fewer dollars, there's a good chance that the image problem grows worse.

It's possible that a death penalty would actually have helped Penn State. In a few years, the eye of the storm would have passed, Sandusky is safely and unforgettably behind bars and those in Happy Valley could start fresh. 

Now, the unmistakable stench of this scandal will hang for the next four years, an onerous yolk around the school's athletics budget and its national image.

College sports, for better or for worse, have an increasingly large fiscal motivation. Behind all of the moral depravity involved in this case—and to be sure, Sandusky isn't the only Nittany Lion whose moral compass failed miserably—was money.

In some ways, that makes those involved in the cover-up even more culpable and their actions more abhorrent.

The statue of JoPa has fallen, along with the halo around his head. Melt the statue and sell it for scrap.

It would be an appropriation metaphor in this chapter of his legacy. He was a man who we all believed stood for something and, in the end, fell because he failed to live up to his own standards in an effort to protect his legacy and his bank account.

Now, Penn State University, the institution that will shoulder the brunt of the punishment perpetrated by a few, will have to recover from allowing its leaders to put dollars in front of human decency.