NCAA and Mark Emmert: An Open Letter from a Penn State Student

Brandon K. SmithContributor IIIJuly 26, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - JULY 23:  NCAA president Mark Emmert speaks as Ed Ray (R), chairman of the NCAA's executive committee and Oregon State president looks on, during a press conference at the NCAA's headquarters to announce sanctions against Penn State University's football program on July 23, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The sanctions are a result of a report that the university concealed allegations of child sexual abuse made against former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, who was found guilty on 45 of 48 counts related to sexual abuse of boys over a 15-year period. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

To the victims of Jerry Sandusky,

Penn State’s thoughts and prayers still go out to you and always shall.  Our quarrels with the NCAA and the focus on the future of our football program are not meant to disrespect you nor overshadow what you went through, and please forgive us if you ever feel that's the case/intent.  Please believe me: it’s not our intention in the slightest.  Stay strong.


To Mark Emmert,

Congratulations.  We’ve gotten your “message.”  And we heard it loud and clear. 

It’s almost inappropriate to call what you and the NCAA levied against Penn State “sanctions.”  You allowed University President Rodney Erickson the choice of the infamous death penalty which would have resulted in the loss of at least one season or a laundry list of other terrible penalties. 

Those penalties include, via ESPN, “a $60 million sanction...a four-year football postseason ban and a vacation of all wins dating to 1998.  Penn State also must reduce 10 initial and 20 total scholarships each year for a four-year period.”

Would you like to be eaten alive by alligators or sharks, President Erickson?

(Also: who’s to say PSU wouldn’t have given $60 million and more to child safety programs/charities, etc.?  I find it highly unlikely that would not have been case.)

You are adamant that Penn State has a frenzied football culture that permitted such egregious acts by the ex-leaders of the school and Jerry Sandusky to transpire.  I don’t know that anyone would disagree with that.  The importance placed on football at Penn State was likely too great, and it most definitely led to the deification of Joseph Vincent Paterno that should never be reserved for any mortal man, let alone a head football coach. 

But the “culture” of football at Penn State didn’t grossly harbor a pedophile for years; Paterno and a handful of leaders at the University did.  The power of the football program and the allure of continued success surely had a great deal to do with the awful decisions they made in regards to covering up Jerry Sandusky’s heinous crimes, but whose direct fault is that?  Are they not responsible for their actions and their actions alone?

The idea of hiding Sandusky’s disturbing transgressions was the choice of a few men.  As far as we know, everyone else ever associated with Penn State had no idea anything to that effect was going on.  It’s not our fault if Paterno and crew felt powerful enough due to longtime support that they thought they could beat the system and that a sports program was more important than the safety of children.  That’s NOT what Penn State stands for, or ever has.

You tell us we were involved in too much so-called hero worship.  Well, guess what: until we found out about Paterno’s indiscretions, he had seemingly been nothing short of a saint for decades.  He gave everything to our school, advocated the importance of academics over athletics and promoted the idea of “Success with Honor.” 

Who knows? Maybe Paterno is a man that backed all that up for a long time and towards the end of an outstanding career made an unforgiveable error in judgment that selfishly sacrificed the safety of children.  Maybe he had us all fooled the entire time, and the wily man from Brooklyn knew a town in football crazy middle-of-nowhere Pennsylvania would cling to such high, sound morals and that he could foster an atmosphere of undying love and support in the process. 

It’s anyone’s guess at this point.  Either way, the entire scandal certainly has the vast majority of Penn Staters questioning just how well we really knew Paterno when for years it seemed as if he were all our third grandfather.

The hero worship is over.  We now realize Joe Paterno was no God; he was a man, and a man as capable of villainous acts as any of us who walk this earth.

So what “message” were you trying to send?  To infer that Penn State did not already learn much about the dangers and faults in the deification of a man over the past eight months is simply ignorance at its highest level.  Do you really think Penn State would have made similar mistakes again? 

Paterno’s success came in a place and time period that was enormously susceptible to such unwavering worship.  To think such glorification could take place again in the high-octane, everything’s publicized, Internet age of 2012 is a little stupid, quite frankly.  And if you wanted to send a message to other high-profile programs—because, let’s face it, Penn State is on a pretty long list of schools that may have a “sports culture” problem—don’t you think the fact that if Paterno’s statue can come down in Happy Valley, people realize anybody can fall?

Then there are the sanctions themselves.  This certainly is not a death penalty—it’s a 200-year prison sentence.  The loss of that many scholarships could potentially lead to Penn State fielding a team of players that are not athletically skilled nor strong enough to compete with the big boys in the Big Ten. 

And I don’t just mean compete on the scoreboard: games, wins, losses. They’ll all come and go.  That’s just sports.  At the end of the day, there are much bigger and more important things in this world to worry about (and that’s coming from a sportswriter, nonetheless).  Protecting the safety of children is certainly one of those things more important, for instance.

But these kids may not be able to compete physically.  FBS sub-division teams often take on Division I powers early in seasons for tune-up games here and there.  But Penn State will have to play Big Ten athletes nearly every week.  That means players of far lesser caliber and ability playing in incredibly fast, violent games, against teams that would may make Penn State look like a JV club to their Varsity. 

What happens when one of these lesser athletes gets severely injured?  Will you even blink?  Or will you simply sit on your throne and say, “Well, they shouldn’t have liked their football program so much.”

Once again, Paterno’s actions had nothing to do with the team directly.

This was a legal issue, not a competitive one, or really any issue that pertained to the football field other than the fact that Paterno, Sanduksy and former AD Tim Curley were obviously connected to said football program.  They were the ones who would be found guilty or not guilty not by the NCAA, but by the United States of America.  From there, they would, and hopefully will, receive their punishment if proven guilty. 

Instead, you and the NCAA have now made it a football issue by bringing down the hammer with these sanctions.  Bill O’Brien and the rest of the program now must scramble to keep players and face the very serious reality that the football team may never be close to competitive again, or at least for some time.  You wanted to flat out kill the program, and it’s blatantly obvious.  Teach us a lesson, so to speak.  The only problem with that is the people you taught this alleged “lesson” to had committed no crime other than being football fans.

And who are you to say we loved our football team too much?  This is America.  Are you going to go down to Tuscaloosa on a Saturday this fall and tell Tide fans to simmer down if they’re getting too excited at a tailgate?  Who died and made you king of dictating what people were allowed to like and to what extent? 

If anything, these sanctions have brought the Penn State community closer together and have created an us-against-the-world mentality.  The problem is this attitude does not make a ton of sense, since anyone with half a brain isn’t really at ends with Penn State itself, just the former leaders of the university and Sandusky. 

So now you have a bunch of people whose biggest sin was liking football too much for your taste, and they’re all super pissed off because you essentially are trying to totally destroy the one thing they all commonly love: football. 

You seem to think Penn State football thought it was too big to fail.  That may have been true for the Paterno era.  But it is now the Bill O’Brien era, and although I feel most of us our satisfied and impressed with the job he has done trying to cultivate a healthy, moral atmosphere, we will never glorify him the way we did Paterno.  It’s impossible, especially given everything that has happened.  We may end up loving O’Brien, but we will never deify him.  What we have now is a professional relationship.  This we knew before you levied those sanctions.

The NCAA never should have had a horse in this race.  Now they have an entirely new world of jurisdiction over collegiate athletic programs that extends way too far past the fields of play.  If you want to look at an institution that truly thinks it is all-powerful and too big to fail, close the medicine cabinet for a minute and look in the mirror, Mr. Emmert.


A Penn State Student