Penn State Scandal: NCAA Smacks Happy Valley with 'Death by Attrition' Penalty

Dan Levy@danlevythinksNational Lead WriterJuly 23, 2012

The NCAA came down with unprecedented sanctions against Penn State football, eschewing the so-called "death penalty"—closing down the football program for an indefinite amount of time—for a penalty that may be worse than immediate death.

The NCAA's long list of sanctions will allow Penn State football to kill itself—slowly but surely. It's murder by suicide, college football style.

Make no mistake: The NCAA sanctions are a death knell for Penn State football. The governing body just won't close up shop neatly for Happy Valley, instead making it slowly destroy itself.

It would have been a logistical nightmare for the Big Ten and all other opponents Penn State has already scheduled had the NCAA shut down the football program for a year or more.

Therefore, instead of killing the program now and shutting down football altogether, the NCAA stepped in to make it virtually impossible for Penn State to field a competitive team this year, next year or any year in the next half decade.

If that's not death, what is?

The NCAA levied a $60 million fine on Penn State—equivalent to one year of football revenue—that will go to children's charities (note to Penn State: vet the charities first). It banned the team from competing in bowls for four years, also reducing the number of scholarships from 25 to 15 over that time, making it nearly impossible for Penn State to even field a fully competitive team in the Big Ten conference for close to a decade.

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With that, the biggest blow to Penn State has to be the ability for all players—those who signed to play this year and those currently on the team—to leave without sitting out a season per NCAA transfer rules.

Anyone and everyone can leave Penn State right now. The NCAA has said it will relax the limits on scholarships for any school that takes on Penn State players at this time, making it even easier for players to find a new home.

Is there any reason for players to stay? The only reason for any player to stay in Happy Valley is because of some misplaced sense of loyalty. Their coach is dead. The rest of the staff is all but gone. Their athletic director and president and upper administration are all disgraced and fired, and the new administration will go above and beyond to make sure every inch of the athletic department is monitored to the point of a police state. 

Sure, the fans are still there, and they will certainly rally for whichever players decide to stay, but there are great fans everywhere in college football, and the fans at other schools will get to go to bowl games to cheer you on for the next four years.

With no actual football reason to stay at Penn State—certainly no chance at winning a trophy of any kind in their entire careers—those who decide to stay could become college football pariahs.

Why would a player have loyalty to a program like Penn State after this, especially when they can leave and go anywhere they want without sitting out? Does that mean they are OK with what happened there?

Is it that far of a stretch to think people will make that claim about the players who stay? Does any current player at Penn State want to stick around long enough to find out when he has been handed a one-time-only pass out of town?

While Penn State still has 15 of its 25 annual scholarships left over the next four years, is there any chance the top players in the country—heck, any player in the country—would be willing to sign to play there at this point? What kind of team can the current players expect to have on the field?

The program that was already on life support is now all but dead, thanks to the NCAA. All that's left is the current crop of players (and all potential recruits over the next four years) doing the rest.

New head coach Bill O'Brien is stuck in Happy Valley unless he wants to pay the school $5 million out of his own pocket to leave (even that might be better than dealing with this mess the next five years). If O'Brien stays, he will have the hardest rebuilding job in the history of college football on his hands. Penn State was already the easiest school in America to recruit against, and Monday, the NCAA made it even easier.

Sure, someone will take those scholarships to say they played at Penn State. Some of the players will undoubtedly stay. There will be a team on the field when the season starts. The alumni and fans will do their best to galvanize what's left of the program to salvage some semblance of a recruiting class this year and rebuild what's left of a once-proud football powerhouse.

Of course, for all the bad news for Penn State, there could be more: NCAA president Mark Emmert announced further sanctions against specific individuals might be coming later.

The NCAA has given itself the ability to reopen the case whenever it sees fit to go after specific individuals involved. With Paterno and Tim Curley gone, it's anyone's guess who the NCAA may target next. If the sanctions levied on Monday don't kill the program, the NCAA can always come back with something else to do the job.

That likely won't matter. Perhaps the NCAA didn't officially kill Penn State on Monday, but it surely did enough to stand back and watch the football program die all on its own.

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