Penn State, Paterno, And The Death Penalty By Any Other Name

July 23, 2012; Indianapolis, IN, USA; NCAA president Mark Emmert speaks during a press conference at the NCAA Headquarters with NCAA Executive Committee chair Ed Ray standing behind him to announce corrective and punitive measures against Penn State University for the child abuse committed by former Penn State Nittany Lions assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE

Statue? Down. Wins? Gone. Program? Gutted. Somewhere Jay Paterno shakes his fist at the injustice of it all.

This morning the NCAA rained hellfire on Penn State in an action that, while not semantically the dreaded “death penalty” is, in many ways, even more than that.

Examining the actual sanctions (and not the interpretation thereof by various talkers and writers), it becomes clear that there are fates worse than “death.” One at a time, here they are, with my layman’s interpretation of what they mean:

$60 million fine. The NCAA imposes a $60 million fine, equivalent to the approximate average of one year’s gross revenues from the Penn State football program, to be paid over a five-year period beginning in 2012 into an endowment for programs preventing child sexual abuse and/or assisting the victims of child sexual abuse.

This is, by far, the least punitive of the sanctions. It’s also easily the most useful. Any time programs that are designed to prevent child sexual abuse, or to help those who have been abused recover, are given a $60 million windfall, that is nothing but a good thing. When that money comes from the coffers of an institution that failed so miserably to protect children from that  type of abuse, that’s even better. My only issue with this, is they should have at least doubled it, in my opinion. Fining Penn State–an institution with an endowment of well over $1 billion–only $60 million, is the approximate equivalent of fining a person with $100,000 in savings less than $3,000. But at least some great programs will be getting much-needed funds, so that’s something.

Four-year postseason ban. The NCAA imposes a four-year postseason ban on participation in postseason play … the University’s football team shall end its 2012 season and each season through 2015 with the playing if [sic] its last regularly scheduled, in-season contest and shall not be eligible to participate in any postseason competition, including a conference championship, any bowl game, or any postseason playoff competition.

This is a necessary step, but it’s basically moot, given the below sanction regarding scholarships. The Penn State football team would not have been qualifying for any bowl games with only 65 scholarships to offer. Still, this year’s current freshmen recruits will never have the possibility of playing in a bowl game. You have to think there will be a mass exodus of freshmen and sophomores from the program.

Four-year reduction of grants-in-aid. For a period of four years commencing with the 2013-2014 … [through] the 2016-2017 academic year, the NCAA imposes a limit of 15 initial grants-in-aid (from a maximum of 25 allowed) and for a period of four years commencing with the 2014-2015 academic year and expiring at the conclusion of the 2017-2018 academic year a limit of 65 total grants-in-aid (from a maximum of 85 allowed) for football… [if] the total number of grants-in-aid drops below 65, the University may award grants-in-aid to non-scholarship student-athletes who have been members of the football program.

This is, quite simply, the piece of the sanctions that took it from little more than a “slap-on-the-wrist”, to “basically the death penalty” status. What the NCAA has done, in limiting the Penn State program to only 65 scholarships, is relegate them to the status of a Division 1-AA school competing in the third-toughest conference in Division 1-A. This is devastating, and effectively means Penn State will not be relevant in football until 2020 or perhaps beyond.

I’ve seen it written in other places that PSU’s inherent advantages are too great to keep the program down much beyond the five years of this set of sanctions. I disagree entirely. With today’s announcement, many of those “inherent advantages” are gone. Teams will make inroads in Pennsylvania recruiting that will not simply disappear at the end of five years. And the noxious cloud of Jerry Sandusky and Joe Paterno will long hang over Happy Valley in the minds of national recruits. The way I see it, Penn State won’t be relevant again until the children of the students who sat so shocked in the PSU student union as the announcement was made, are ready to attend college. That puts my target date for the PSU football program’s relevance at around 2030.

Five years of probation. The NCAA imposes … the appointment of an on-campus, independent Integrity Monitor and periodic reporting as detailed in the Corrective Component of this Consent Decree. Failure to comply with the Consent Decree during this probationary period may result in additional, more severe sanctions.

This is basically the NCAA saying, “Screw up, even once, and we’re just going to go ahead and kill the football program for awhile.” There’s nothing other than that which could be classified as “more severe sanctions.”

Waiver of transfer rules and grant-in-aid retention. Any … football student-athlete will be allowed to immediately transfer and will be eligible to immediately compete … provided he is otherwise eligible. Any football student-athlete who wants to remain at the University may retain his athletic grant-in-aid … regardless of whether he competes on the football team.

This portion is entirely unsurprising, and puts the lie to the red herring argument that his is somehow “punishing student-athletes”, that Penn State apologists have been floating. I fully expect that we will see first a trickle, then a flood of transfers from the Penn State football program.

Individual penalties to be determined. The NCAA reserves the right to initiate a formal investigatory and disciplinary process and impose sanctions on individuals after the conclusion of any criminal proceedings related to any individual involved.

This is pro forma, as it just reminds us that the NCAA isn’t done with the individuals involved in aiding and abetting this tragedy. Do not be surprised if you see a lifetime ban of sorts for Spanier, Curley, and Schultz. And while I don’t think it will happen, I believe that there should be some sort of a “show-cause” penalty for Mike McQueary. Let’s not forget that he saw Sandusky raping a little boy, and did not call the police.

Vacation of wins since 1998. The NCAA vacates all wins of the Penn State football team from 1998 to 2011. The career record of Coach “Joe” Paterno will reflect the vacated records.

Though the NCAA listed it earlier in their announcement, I’ve intentionally saved this one for last. This portion of the sanctions surprised me. I honestly didn’t think Emmert had it in him to actually take away Penn State and Paterno’s wins. I was wrong–thankfully.

From the “noise” I’m hearing from Penn State fans, this portion of the sanctions rile them almost more than the lost scholarships and the bowl ban. Why, you wonder? Well, because the beloved figure, the removal of whose statue they bemoaned, has officially been scrubbed from the top of the NCAA’s record books. He’s no longer the wins leader–heck, he’s no longer even in the top 5 of Division 1-A coaches.

Which is as it should be. The man’s last ten years, spent covering up a child molester’s atrocity, besmirch everything that came before. Every. Single. Thing. You don’t get to do that, and remain revered by the mass populace. Will their still be reverence from the most diehard of the Paterno sycophants? Most definitely. But the public-at-large will never again be subjected to Paterno’s name at the top of a list where it does not belong.

In the end, Penn State’s football program survived in name only. For now, I’m not sure whether that’s a good or a bad thing. But the reality of the situation, as regards Penn State football is this:

They got the death penalty. Emmert and the NCAA just called it by a different name.

Topics: Football, Joe Paterno, NCAA, Paterno, Penn State, Sanctions, Sandusky, Sandusky Sex Abuse Scandal

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