Cheating "Death," But Sanctions Fair and Just for Penn State

Cheating "Death," But Sanctions Fair and Just for Penn State
Spared the "death penalty," Penn State received some of the most damaging sanctions in NCAA and Big 10 history.

It may not be the death penalty, but at first read, both the NCAA’s and Big Ten sanctions on Penn State in the wake of the abuse scandal that rocked the institution from top to bottom sounded right to me.

Being hit with a $60 million fine, payable over 12 years, being banned from bowl games for four years, and vacating all of its wins from 1998 to 2011 seemed adequate and appropriate.  Most importantly, the $30 million fine and the funds stripped from Penn State’s numerous bowl victories will be distributed to charities devoted to preventing and healing abuse.

I am sorry for Joe Paterno’s family and his tarnished legacy, but that’s about it. In what’s probably the saddest part of the day for his family, Paterno lost his status as the winningest coach in all of college football. 

Over the weekend, the family issued a statement in reaction to the removal of the Joe Paterno statue on campus, calling the Freeh Report  an “incomplete and unofficial…a changing document written by a prosecutor.” The family’s statement said the only way to help the victims was to “uncover the full truth.”  I suggested on WRLR 98.3 FM’s  Lepek & Company this morning that if left standing, the statue would end up like Sadam Hussein’s statue in Iraq, on the ground and stomped on. It was a wise move to make it invisible for now. As for campus accolades, the family still has the Paterno Library, and that will be enough for now.

Look, I understand the family’s need to clear their paterfamilias and restore his name to the original luster. I would try to do the same if it were my family. But Paterno was about so much more than football. He was a cult and a culture unto himself. JoePa ruled Pennsylvania…at least the small town known as Happy Valley. It’s tragic, because I truly believe he really didn’t know what to do when faced with those allegations. And that he didn’t want to open a “Pandora’s Box” that would tear his program apart. He set an example that contributed to a mighty destructive environment.

And eventually, that “Pandora’s Box” was torn wide open, spilling pent-up venom worldwide and leaving acid rivers in its wake.

As reported by the Chicago Tribune , NCAA president Mark Emmert said Penn State will lose 10 initial football scholarships for new students, beginning in 2013-14. The number of total scholarships will be reduced from 85 to 65 for four years, beginning in 2014-15.

All current and incoming Penn State players will be allowed to transfer and be eligible immediately elsewhere. The NCAA will consider waiving scholarship maximums for schools who accept Penn State transfers.

I especially like the part about the $60 million in fines going toward a fund for victims of child abuse. Additionally, the Big $10’s sanctions will include $13 million Penn State received from Bowl Games to be distributed to charitable organizations for the protection of children. Only by creating something that heals and goes beyond the mission of changing the culture will Penn State rid themselves of this toxicity.

Penn State also will be placed on probation for five years. Though many called for PSU to be dropped from the Big 10, Commissioner Jim Delany told the news media through a teleconference that the Big 10 would not consider divisional realignment at this time.

In possibly the most damaging cut to Paterno, all of Penn State’s victories from 1998 through 2011 will be vacated. Before the scandal hit, he won 409 games in 46 seasons. The vacated wins remove 111 victories from his total, dropping it to 298.

That returns Eddie Robinson of Grambling (408 wins) to the top spot. Former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden now heads the list of Football Bowl Subdivision victories with 377.

The strongest statements made in today’s press conferences announcing the sanctions were to the victims of former football assistant Jerry Sandusky:

“There are no punishments in this world that can bring back a child’s trust, or erase the memory of being overpowered, or of being violated.” Emmert said,  “No matter what we do here today, there is no action we can take that will remove their pain and anguish.

But what we can do is impose sanctions that both reflect the magnitude of these terrible acts and that also ensure that Penn State will rebuild an athletic culture that went horribly awry.”

Penn State appeared to be in agreement with every sanction imposed, and all vowed to move forward. Coach Bill O’Brien said in a statement. “I knew when I accepted the position that there would be tough times ahead. But I am committed for the long term to Penn State and our student athletes.”

Penn State President Rodney Erickson told the Chicago Tribune the university accepted the punitive measures and would pay $12 million a year for the next five years to create a special endowment to fund programs for detection, prevention and treatment of child abuse.

Let’s leave it to new President, though, to have the last, and most important word on Penn State and the changes it makes:

“It is important to know we are entering a new chapter at Penn State and making necessary changes,” Erickson said in a statement. “We must create a culture in which people are not afraid to speak up, management is not compartmentalized, all are expected to demonstrate the highest ethical standards, and the operating philosophy is open, collegial, and collaborative.”

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