(See video blog with CineSports’ Noah Coslov below)
(Updated at 6:40 p.m. with comment from Penn State president that school accepted penalties to avoid death penalty)
Let’s start with this: NCAA president Mark Emmert acted swiftly and justly. That’s a rarity for the NCAA.
Emmert didn’t need a 17-month investigation by an overworked and underpaid staff to unearth something that we didn’t already learn from prosecutors and witnesses in the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse trial, or from the exhaustive, 267-page Freeh Report, conducted by a former director of the FBI. Anybody who believes Emmert moved too quickly on Penn State without the NCAA doing its own leg work must not having been paying attention for the past several decades, when policing college athletics became far too big of a job for that relative mom-and-pop organization.
The NCAA appropriately slammed Penn State Monday for its perceived enabling and cover-up of Sandusky. Emmert referenced an athletic culture “that went horribly awry” and a misguided “hero worship” that led to it. He didn’t bury the lead.
The penalties will double-over every blinded school official, player, fan, alum and misguided individual who hugged and tried to protect the Joe Paterno statute. The school was hit with a $60 million fine, equivalent to one year’s gross revenue for the football program (the money will fund an endowment that will fight child sexual abuse).
There’s also a four-year bowl ban; the loss of 40 scholarships over four years; the freedom for existing Penn State players to transfer to another school without having to sit out a year; the vacating of all victories since 1998, a symbolic punch to the gut for the memory of Joe Paterno. (The quarterback for Paterno’s last official win in 1997: Mike McQueary, whose eyewitness account of seeing Sandusky in the shower with a young boy was ignored years later.)
The sanctions will cripple the football program. But Emmert still fell short.
The NCAA, as I’ve written previously, should have gone one step further and shut the program down for one to two years. It would’ve been more than just a symbolic hit.
There is a need for a cultural change at Penn State, as Emmert himself said frequently Monday, and the “death penalty” would have increased the likelihood of that happening. It would have prompted anybody who ever took part in a cover-up or ignored whispers about Sandusky to reflect during Saturdays in the fall when football wasn’t being played at Penn State. Beaver Stadium could have been used for weekly prayer vigils for the victims.
Penn State officials need time to process this. They need to consider where, when and why they jumped the rails on their mission. While there’s no question the NCAA’s punishment will make them feel the pain of their actions, nothing can equal the silence of an empty stadium, the absence of weekly pep rallies. No program in history deserves to be shuttered as much as the Penn State football team. We send criminals to jail. We don’t tell them, “OK, you can still go back to that bank that you robbed, but now you’ll have to take the bus, and just don’t do it again.” Penn State needed to lose its freedoms, its privileges.
For some reason, the NCAA apparently gave Penn State a choice. President Rodney Erickson told the Centre Daily Times the school accepted the sanctions to avoid the death penalty: “We had our backs to the wall on this. We did what we thought was necessary to save the program.”
Some believe the death penalty would have been a softer punishment than what Penn State received. I don’t get that. Has anybody seen SMU since the death penalty?
Emmert believes the death penalty would’ve caused “unintended harm” to those who were innocent in this mess. That’s true. Unfortunately, the innocent always get hurt in NCAA probation. New players and often new coaches are in place when sanctions hit for past misdeeds.
Those who believe Sandusky’s crimes didn’t warrant any sanctions because they did not give the school a competitive advantage are missing the big picture. Question: If Jerry Sandusky was a chemistry professor and not a former high profile football coach, do you believe he would’ve been protected? Of course not. Penn State’s actions and inactions were about preserving the competitiveness, image and profitability of the football program.
Even without the death penalty, however, it was encouraging to see Emmert take charge. The NCAA has needed somebody with logic and courage to run things. The hope is that this won’t be an isolated case, because the leaders of college athletics have long since lost perspective.
Emmert said the Penn State case “involves tragic and tragically unnecessary circumstances. One of the grave dangers coming from our love of sports is that the sports themselves can become too big to fail, too big to even challenge. The result can be an erosion of academic values that are replaced by hero worship and winning at all costs. In the Penn State case, the results were perverse and unconscionable.”
They were the perfect words to punctuate the punishment and begin the process of closure. Going one step further would have made it just a little better.
By Jeff Schultz
Here’s my chat with CineSports’ Noah Coslov on the NCAA’s sanctions against Penn State.
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