There is a reasonable debate to be had about whether or not the NCAA has the authority (and/or obligation) to punish Penn State for the Sandusky rape scandal.
Some argue that the NCAA shouldn't get involved in an issue like this, and that's fine. I disagree, but whatever. That’s not a debate I am interested in.
Given that the NCAA clearly believes it has the right to dole out punishment for the scandal, we're left to gauge whether or not the severity of the sanctions match the severity of the crimes.
I'm absolutely appalled that PSU got off as easy as it did. And here's why:
In the immediate wake of the scandal, the broad consensus was that if we are to learn anything from the horrific events that took place in Happy Valley (a place that now assumes perhaps the creepiest name for anywhere in American sports) it is this: football culture should never be allowed to take precedence over human culture.
Joe Paterno and the PSU athletic department were clearly more concerned with protecting the name and reputation of their prestigious program than preventing the then-still-ongoing serial rape by one of their culture’s beloved icons.
I’m not here to pile on the PSU hate-wagon. I think just about everyone who doesn’t drink the blue and white Kool-Aid can agree that the entire program deserved to face serious consequences for what happened.
What angers me is the spineless nature of the NCAA sanctions that were announced this morning (via NCAA.com).
The lesson we were supposed to learn is that life is more important than football. The sanctions imposed by the NCAA would seem to be in line with these values: the real blow came in the form of the $60 million fine, an astronomical amount compared to precedent.
And the purpose, I would think, of levying such a fine would be to take the money generated by the football program (which was in the neighborhood of $55 million last year, second-most in the country after only Texas) and divert it into programs that serve children who have been victimized by people like Jerry Sandusky.
It would seem that the underlying message is this: take the resources produced by the cultish devotion to the PSU football program and apply them to real-life problems, namely fighting child abuse as it exists even beyond the scope of sports culture.
In theory, it’s a great trade off. It is in line with the spirit of valuing life over football, an example of getting our priorities straight.
The problem is that the football stuff got left intact. Very intact, actually. And let’s face it, that’s where the root of the problem lies: in the football culture.
If the intention of the NCAA was to set an example for other programs, the only message communicated was this: cover up these crimes for a decade and we will take some of your money.
The football-related consequences were incredibly similar to those levied against USC just two years ago for a scandal that couldn’t hold a match to the inferno of Sandusky-gate.
Money aside, this punishment has very little impact whatsoever on the long-term status of the football program.
For a bit of evidence, let’s compare the PSU sanctions to those made against USC, and then take a look at what happened to USC in the wake of those sanctions to get an idea of what might be in store for Happy Valley in the near future.
The only real difference, football-wise, between the USC punishment and PSU is length: USC's postseason ban was for two years, PSU is four. USC lost 30 scholarships over three years, PSU lost 40. USC was on probation for four years, PSU for five. USC had to vacate a national title and two conference titles, PSU lost all of its victories since 1998 (when Paterno and company could have done the right thing), including two conference titles.
That’s it. The NCAA seems to be suggesting that, in football terms, covering these crimes for over fifteen years is only twice as bad as covering up a few boosters and a Chevy Impala over half that span.
Some in the media are praising the NCAA for what they are calling “appropriate consequences,” others are saying that they overstepped, calling this punishment a virtual “death sentence.”
Really? A death sentence? What happened to USC when facing similar consequences?
This will be the first season that USC is bowl-eligible since their scandal. They have been without those important 30 scholarships, so their program took a major hit, right?
Wrong. According to many preseason rankings, including ESPN Live, USC has the #1 rated team coming into this season. Think about that for a minute. USC is the consensus #1 rated team by a number of media sources. How is this possible?
Well, because USC is still USC. Lane Kiffin is one of the best recruiters in college football, and living in sunny southern California certainly doesn’t harm the recruiting process.
Despite the football-related sanctions by the NCAA, USC culture was left completely intact.
Now, a four-year ban is certainly more prohibitive than a two-year ban. But Penn State’s culture was a key element, perhaps the key element, in this whole story.
It was the football-first university culture that allowed Joe Paterno to become a demigod with much more power than a football coach should ever have, no matter his record or legacy. It was the Jonestown-like following in Happy Valley that prompted students to riot in the streets upon their deity’s firing, overturning cars and lighting fires.
This culture, which is everything that is absolutely wrong with college football today, is every bit as culpable for the Sandusky tragedies as the idols who covered it up, because it made the idols in the first place.
Do the Penn State Sanctions Fit the Crimes?
And yet, the NCAA sanctions do next-to-nothing to dismantle this culture, or alter it in a significant way.
The football team will still be a part of the Big 10, will still have good teams and will be back to top-caliber in a matter of five or so years. And though I’m no Nostradamus, I can assure you that when that day comes, there will be a movement in Happy Valley to put Paterno’s statue back in place.
Because nothing has changed there.
If you don’t believe me, read the statement released by the Paterno family after his totem was torn down. Read any of the thousands of comments on the internet by Penn State defenders about how the Freeh report is wrong (though few to none of them have actually read the thing in its entirety).
The culture is not just intact, it has in many ways been strengthened by the Sandusky scandal.
The NCAA should have made an effort to dismantle this culture or to at least communicate loudly that idol-worship is not to be encouraged. Instead, they docked their allowance and asked them to stay out of the spotlight for a few years before returning to national prominence.
The Penn State football program should have been given the death penalty. Literally. The NCAA should have banned the football program for life.
And if they didn’t have the courage to do that, they should at least have enforced a lifetime subsidy of Penn State Football revenue to go toward child-abuse charities across the nation. Something big, like 10 percent every year. For ever.
Instead, King Football was left in place in Happy Valley and the NCAA failed miserably in exacting justice.