Earlier today, the NCAA announced that Penn State's football program would face severe sanctions in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
For starters, the school was fined a whopping $60 million dollars, with the money earmarked to go to an endowment to benefit the welfare of children. The football program is barred from the postseason for 4 years and is on probation for 5. The school can only offer 15 football scholarships per year for the next 4 years. Incoming or returning student-athletes now have the option of transferring to another school and retaining their athletic eligibility for this season.
But the biggest penalty affects the record of the late Joe Paterno, whose legacy has been irrevocably tarnished by the Sandusky scandal and last week's Freeh Report tying the legendary coach to a institutional cover-up. 111 victories, encompassing a 14 year period from 1998, the year Sandusky was first accused of child molestation, through 2011, have been vacated, dropping Paterno from 1st to 5th on the all-time victory list, reinstating Grambling's Eddie Robinson to the top spot overall, with retired Florida State coach Bobby Bowden once more the #1 winningest coach in Division 1-A.
To the players who were on the field over those 14 seasons, that hardly seems fair, but NCAA President Mark Emmert was not in any position to be fair at all. This was more about sending a clear-cut message that no program, no matter how elite, pristine, or lauded, is immune to NCAA sanctions. Not anymore. No more trips to Namby-Pamby Land when it comes to meting out the punishment. Emmert might as well have been the reincarnation of Judge Roy Bean, even if he looks more like a distant cousin of Newt Gingrich.
As I wrote previously, Paterno was being tossed under the bus, six months after his passing. His family has said they will conduct their own investigation, obviously with an eye toward vindication and correcting what they feel is a haphazard decision made to appease the growing sentiment against the late coach. He did what he felt he was supposed to do, but that his superiors, such as Graham Spanier & Tim Curley, did exactly nothing. Why the Freeh Report claims Paterno was just as culpable, I cannot fully fathom.
Penn State removed the statue of Paterno in front of Beaver Stadium on Sunday. 24 hours later, Mark Emmert lowered the boom, stopping short of making Penn State the 2nd football program to suffer the death penalty. Southern Methodist is the only one, back in the 80's. Come September 1, Beaver Stadium will still be packed for a non-league home opener vs. Ohio, with ex-New England Patriots assistant Bill O'Brien at the helm to begin a new era. It will take a few years for the Nittany Lions to regain their former stature on the field, even longer for the truth to restore Paterno to his rightful place in football history. His on the field accomplishments shouldn't have to have been penalized because of a perceived lack of action off it. The NCAA will claim Penn State was lacking institutional control by not getting rid of Sandusky sooner and getting him help. They enabled him to protect their image.
The message sent to the other programs is clear. Screw the images. As they say in New York in those MTA ads, if you see something, say something. Don't play see-no-evil with it. Penn State did, and look what it got them.