From the very beginning, from the very first whispers of scandal at Penn State, it never really made sense to me how the NCAA could get involved with the punishment process. The NCAA is after all a governing body that deals with agents, text logs and free tattoos. The situation at Penn State was one of the worst criminal cover-ups in the history of our country. In essence, they had nothing to do with each other. They weren’t even apples and oranges, but two different entities all together.
So in the end, why would the NCAA get involved? What “punishment” could they hand out that would possibly fit the crime? A bowl ban? Take away a few scholarships? That all seemed so shallow and crass, and ultimately insignificant relative to what we’re talking about with this particular case. And what we’re really talking about in this case are ruined lives. That is the sad reality here, and the truth about what Jerry Sandusky did to his victims and what the administration at Penn State helped cover up. Lives were in fact ruined. And I found it impossible to believe any NCAA jurisdiction could help change that.
Eventually though it became clear that the NCAA was going to hit Penn State with sanctions, and at that point my only hope was that if they came down on the school… that they REALLY came down on them. Simply put, taking away trips to the Outback Bowl or scholarships from 17-year-old kids wasn’t enough; that’s what you do to football programs that break NCAA rules, not institutions which cover up some of the most heinous crimes known to man. Ultimately, if the NCAA was going to intervene, my only hope was that their punishment made one thing abundantly clear: Any sanctions against the school had nothing to do with football, and instead everything to do with changing the culture around the entire university that allowed this to happen.
Well, when Mark Emmert stepped to the podium Monday morning, I believe he did that. No matter what he said, the NCAA couldn’t possibly hand out a punishment that fit the crimes committed. But man, did they come close.
By now, you all know what the sanctions are, and to their credit, the NCAA left no stone unturned. The school was hit with a $60 million fine; they are banned from bowl games for four years; they will lose 10 scholarships a year for the next four years; all wins from the 1998-2011 seasons will be vacated and the entire athletic department will be on probation for five years. In addition, any players currently on the roster (including incoming freshmen) are allowed to transfer to any school of their choice, and compete right away.
In a word, “Wow.”
It seemed implausible that any punishment handed down on Monday could be worse than the Death Penalty. Only this very well might be.
Now before we move on, let me go ahead and again emphasize a few things. The first is that I fully agree with anyone arguing that there is no punishment that the NCAA could’ve handed down on Monday that truly fit the crimes that were committed in this case. We all understand that, and need to take that element out of the context here. It’s not up to you or I whether the NCAA should’ve gotten involved in this situation in the first place, because the fact is that they did. We can’t change that. Instead it’s time to move on, and evaluate what they did and the impact that these sanctions will have going forward (plenty more on that coming).
It’s also important to note that I am a bit disappointed that like in so many other instances with the NCAA, the people who will ultimately be punished at Penn State aren’t the ones who had anything to do with the crimes. It especially seems troublesome in this particular case, since the guilty here didn’t just lose their jobs, but are facing the wrath of the American judicial system as well. Jerry Sandusky is behind bars, Tim Curley and Gary Schultz could be headed there too, and Joe Paterno is dead, so to take away an opportunity for a 17-year-old to get a free education or to tell every single kid currently on Penn State’s football roster that they’ll never play in a bowl game is most certainly unfair. I do sympathize with those kids, as well as the people in the community who truly care about the university as a whole, and not just wins and losses on the football field.
At the same time, we need to keep it in all perspective here. For those kids who really do want to stay at Penn State they can. They will still have the opportunity to play football, and fans will still have the opportunity to come to games, two luxuries that the folks at SMU didn’t have in 1987. Yup, that’s right. The guys on the field will still be able to run through the tunnel and the fans will still be able to tailgate, and for six or seven Saturday’s a fall, things will seem relatively normal, even if the product on the field isn’t what people are accustomed to. No lives were lost. No damages are irreparable. All we’re talking about here are a few more losses at the end of the season than usual.
Also to the NCAA’s credit, for the kids who do want to keep playing football somewhere other than Penn State, there are no transfer restrictions. Simply put, anyone at Penn State is pretty much welcome to go any school in the country and play immediately. That was the right move on the NCAA’s part. There are also no restrictions keeping anyone on scholarship at Penn State from staying on scholarship even if they decide they don’t want to play football anymore. Again, I’m not saying these are ideal circumstances, but things could be much worse.
Beyond that though- and I hate to sound crass- the punishments handed out today really aren’t about the kids on the field, and if anything, they’re the opposite. What today’s punishment was about was to show folks that there are things bigger than football at Penn State.
And in that regard, the NCAA did their job to the best of their abilities on Monday afternoon. They might not have taken away the sport of football, but they did take away the relevance that it has on the Penn State community.
Now granted, there will still be people- from fans to alumni and likely administrators too- who care too much about the football program at Penn State. Short of cancelling the program forever, that’ll never change. It’s also no different than every other school that fields a team.
Then again you don’t need me to tell you how these transfer rules and scholarship limits are actually going to impact the product on the field. I don’t think I’m breaking any news to you by saying that Penn State is going to lose a lot of football games over these next couple years, or that at times it’s going to get ugly, and at points unwatchable. At the same time, wasn’t the emphasis on wins and losses (not so much by the fans, but more so the administration) the reason we’re here in the first place? In the grand scheme, are a couple 3-9 seasons the worst thing that could happen at Penn State?
Really though, where Emmert impressed me was with the off-the-field fines that he doled out to go along with the on-the-field punishment. For those of you scoring at home, the NCAA hit the school with a $60 million fine, one that has to come directly from the football program, and not at the expense of non-revenue sports. Additionally, the Big Ten also announced on Monday that they would be taking away the $13 million a year that Penn State would get from conference bowl revenue. In total, that’s $73 million, and according to Emmert, it’ll all go to preventing childhood sexual abuse and assisting victims of these crimes as well.
And that folks, is truly fantastic. It’s also why I’ve got to commend Emmert and his crew here.
Look, I’ve been saying since the beginning of this column that what we’re talking about here has nothing to do with football. At the end of the day, whether the NCAA handed out the punishment they did today, suspended the program for a year or did anything in between, the football aspect of things would eventually move on. The games might not be as competitive as they once were, and the crowds not as large, but whether it was this September, next September or beyond, the games would eventually be played. Football would continue whether any of us wanted to or not and there was nothing the NCAA could do about that.
But the one thing the NCAA could do was try and help repair the damage that had already been done. They might not be able to change the past, but they could do their best to try and make sure nothing like this ever happens again.
And on Monday, the NCAA took a step toward doing that.
That’s right, the more I think about the punishment handed down by the NCAA, the more I realize it had nothing to do with the things I feared it would. It has nothing to do with Outback bowls or scholarship losses or the record books that no longer list Joe Paterno as the winningest coach in the history of college football. What the punishment was about, was taking all the evil that’s happened, and turning it into something positive. Maybe not something ideal, but something better than it was.
On Monday, the NCAA had a real opportunity. It was an opportunity that had nothing to do with ruining a football program, but instead, with changing lives.
On Monday, the NCAA did just that.
It might change the past at Penn State or solve all future problems either. But it is a start.
And it’s that start that the NCAA needs to commended for this afternoon.
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@Aaron_Torres It's a shame some people can't see past their own "suffering" to realize the penalties handed down today were just.
@Aaron_Torres I read it, thanks Torres. $73 million to "go to preventing childhood sexual abuse and assisting victims" is fantastic.
Well put Mr. Torres, I couldn't have said it better myself. I think we are really seeing some good changes under Emmert to thi pint but much, much more needs to be done.
@jranney5971 Aww, thank you so much. It was a tough subject to write on, but given the circumstances they were under the NCAA did the best
Per @PeteThamelNYT, Emmert/NCAA came up w/ penalties as they waited for Freeh Report. Now THAT's lack of due process [..]"