If anything was to be done with the statue of Joe Paterno that was taken down from Beaver Stadium this past weekend, it might as well be melted down and turned into an anvil.
And upon that anvil can lay the hammer the NCAA lowered on Penn State University today in the wake of the Freeh Report and the Jerry Sandusky trial.
The sanctions speak for themselves (from NCAA.com):
- A punitive fine of $60 million, equivalent to a full year of football-generated revenue, to be used in an endowment for programs dealing with child sexual abuse or assisting victims.
- Joe Paterno's record 409 career wins are knocked down to 298 as the Nittany Lions must vacate all wins from 1998-2011.
- Four-year postseason ban, both from bowl games and the Big Ten Championship.
- Four-year scholarship reduction (10 initial, 20 total).
- Players may transfer to other FBS schools and are immediately eligible to play.
- Athletic department on probation for five years, with an NCAA-appointed athletic-integrity monitor being brought in to ensure no further violations are made.
In addition to the NCAA's punishment, the Big Ten also placed Penn State on a five-year probation to run concurrently, while fully supporting the NCAA's actions and condemning the school for "failing egregiously on many levels—morally, ethically and potentially criminally."
The Big Ten will also take Penn State's yearly bowl revenues over the next four years, an estimated $13 million, and put it towards "charitable organizations in Big Ten communities dedicated to the protection of children."
Pundits everywhere are comparing this to the NCAA's vaunted "Death Penalty," some saying it's worse than if the football program had been dissolved for at least the next season. Some say this is the "slow death knell" of Penn State football and the program will never be what it once was during its heyday.
Some are calling it a soapboxing political statement made by the NCAA and President Mark Emmert who were looking to make a power play for more control over the universities. Considering the bang-up job Penn State did in supposedly policing themselves in this case, can it really be expected for the NCAA to not do something to punish them?
Let's break down each facet of the sentence.
1. I don't think anyone is going to argue with the fine. $60 million is a lot of money, and as Emmert pointed out, it's a full year of football-generated revenue, and it will go towards an endowment to help victims of child abuse. Is it enough to undo the damage Jerry Sandusky and the administration caused for the victims in this case?
No. Of course not. No amount of money is going to undo what Sandusky did. But there was no doubt Penn State had to pay some form of monetary compensation and taking it out of the football program's coffers since it's at the heart of this, is fair.
2. Vacating the 112 wins from Paterno's career may seem like spitting on his grave, and yes I know, this isn't a case of what happened on the field. No one disputes how Penn State or Paterno won those games. But Paterno not only took part in bringing Sandusky to Happy Valley, he did nothing to stop him once he was there and the secret was out.
Therefore, it was necessary to hit Paterno where it mattered most. His legacy.
He was the winningest coach in college football history and seen as the model of how to run a program, "the right way." Yes, there is more to Joe Paterno than what the Freeh Report uncovered and the epitaphs which have been bestowed on him over the last year. All the same, Paterno needed to be punished for his role in the cover-up, and in the absence of his still being alive to accept his fate, it's only right that he be taken off the board as its greatest head coach.
3. Postseason bans are standard issue in college football. USC got one, as did Ohio State. Virtually every major program which steps out of line with the NCAA gets their bowl tickets taken from them and Penn State is no different. Given the financial ramifications for schools who go to bowls, it's another way for the NCAA to hit offending schools where it hurts most, on the bank sheets.
4. Scholarship reductions are also commonplace when schools are punished by the NCAA, and as was the case when SMU was given the Death Penalty in 1986, student-athletes will have the option to transfer to another school and be automatically eligible to play this upcoming season.
This seems to have the most scrutiny from critics and Penn State defenders, calling it "the slow death penalty" because it will give Penn State a major competitive disadvantage in the Big Ten. Was anyone realistically expecting the Nittany Lions to be a National Championship contender this season?
Or next season? Really?
The NCAA gave an out to the players who had absolutely no fault at all in what happened, still wanted to play football and not bear the burden of the university. Some may call it unfair; some may think it has destroyed the program like it did at SMU.
It's important to remember that this is a very rare case in which not a single student-athlete was involved, but being the ones who donned the uniform, they would ultimately be made a target of the justifiable rage directed at Penn State. Some may want to stay and show loyalty to the program; others may not. I don't think it's fair to judge the actions of an 18-, 19- or 20-year-old kid who did nothing wrong and just happened to be part of the Penn State Nittany Lions.
5. Defenders of Penn State and Joe Paterno are wondering why the school doesn't fight the NCAA and why they'd allow them to appoint someone to oversee the football program over the next five years.
With the overwhelming evidence against the former administration and Paterno, Penn State is in no position to mount a defense against the NCAA, the Big Ten or anyone else. They were caught in the totality of their deliberate ignorance of what Jerry Sandusky did, and all President Rodney Erickson could do is stand there like a man, take the punishment and tell everyone, "We will do better and work through this."
Had he instead taken the route of arguing like a scorned child, stomping his feet and saying it was unwarranted, then how much worse would Penn State look to all of us?
Penn State was strapped in the chair with all of us witnesses waiting for the executioner to throw the switch, and the NCAA decided to spare them at the last minute. That doesn't mean the punishment they were given is any less severe, nor will it be forgotten by those of us who've experienced this dark era in sports history.
Sometimes, being given life is a harsher punishment than being given death.