“No price the NCAA can levy with repair the damage inflicted by Jerry Sandusky on his victims,” said NCAA president Mark Emmert as he handed down Penn State’s sanctions. In the aftermath of the Freeh Report—an independent collection of evidence, accounts, and interviews following Sandusky’s child molestation charges—new details of Penn State’s implicit cover-up of Sandusky’s abuse were recounted. Although Penn State only broke one rule, “lack of institutional control” (this is a criminal case, not an athletic one), the NCAA has given themselves the power to punish the football program.
The sanctions imposed are a $60 million fine to be donated to a child abuse charity (about $13 million less than the program’s revenue), a forfeiture of all wins since 1998, and a four-year postseason ban; football players can transfer to other schools without penalty, and the Penn State athletic department is placed on probation. Never before has a program been punished to this degree. It’s worse than the Death Penalty, which is when the NCAA bans competition in a sport for at least one year. Joe Paterno, who’s name and legacy has already been lit on fire, has now had his records burned. The program is now financially crippled, and with transfers looming and no postseason to offer to recruits, bringing in Penn State quality players will be impossible. These sanctions are a slow death by fire, when a quick decapitation is needed.
Penn State football is irreparably ruined. The reputation of the university and the program has already been tarnished, but these sanctions impose logistical harm. The school is now defined by Jerry Sandusky, and the football team is too. Although the NCAA sanctions are unprecedented, the act of handing them down isn’t a problem—it’s the sanctions themselves. The NCAA should have closed down the football program altogether. If they really felt the need to be involved, a decisive blow should’ve been dealt. Instead of delivering a slow, painful fall, a swift death would’ve been more appropriate. Football will continue at Penn State, but only in a sad, hollow shell of itself. Every game will be a reminder of Sandusky. Why even let that happen?
The NCAA is making the entire case about football without any regard to the victims. The $60 million donation is nice, but it’s only a small gesture in the grand scheme of the situation. Football is now overshadowing everything. History will remember Sandusky as the footnote that led to the death of Penn State football, instead of the evil man who ruined lives. All we’ll remember are the “ruined” careers of football sportsmen, instead of the victims. This case was never about football, but that’s all anybody seems to care about. When Penn State’s students rioted on campus following Paterno’s firing, it was all about football. “JoePa is Penn State.” Really now? For Penn State’s students to forget about football, and to be re-cultured and rewired into students—not football-driven maniacs—the program must die now. There’s a crisis of culture at Penn State that the NCAA is bent on exacerbating.
When Paterno arranged a lucrative pay-out some 15 months ago, before the story went public, it was all about protecting him, the program, and therefore the university. Institutions like Penn State are effectively run by the football program, because of all the money, attention, and power, and students it brings in. Isn’t school spirit and the football team central to a Penn State experience? What is the school now? Sandusky’s showers are more famous than Beaver Stadium. This could’ve happened to any team at Penn State, but if it was the swim team coach who was molesting children, no way it gets covered up. It’s a story that comes out, gets attention for a week, and then dies. Penn State lives on. Because the money and power of the football team was linked, Sandusky got away with his perversion for decades.
The NCAA has an elephant that isn’t even in the room yet. College football programs have grown to be too rich, too powerful, and out of control. The value of an athletic scholarship has been bastardized by TV contracts and merchandising. College football doesn’t exist for students to get an education–it exists as a free talent-evaluating service for the NFL, and for the pockets of the university. Right there is why Paterno and Penn State’s braintrust covered the whole thing up. But are they as immoral as their peers? No university or athletic department would ever admit this, but would they have done the same thing if they were in Paterno’s shoes? Would they’ve called the police at the cost of their football program? Men have done worse to maintain wealth and power, and with so much of it in the college game, there can’t be many morally sound men left.
The NCAA and Penn State should be trying to find solutions, not sanctions. Penn State will probably sue the NCAA for handing down these penalties without legal standing, meaning this quagmire will continue to drag on. The longer this is an issue, the longer it will take for the victims to heal, and for Penn State to heal. The NCAA’s ego is getting in the way of a humanistic tragedy, just like how Paterno’s prevented him from calling 9-1-1. Only a power-drunk organization like the NCAA could put itself ahead of a crime. They genuinely believe that they’re above the law. The best price the NCAA can levy is either total, immediate action, or none at all. Focus on the victims, not on football.
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