In the light of an egregious scandal, maybe the worst in NCAA history, we could have seen this coming a long time ago and we could have already known a punishment would have been so severe to basically destroy Penn State. Unfortunately, as we witness the unprecedented scene of punitive sanctions in which PSU may never recover and especially not anytime soon, the university is crippled because of Jerry Sandusky’s horrid crimes of sexually abusing young boys.
Eleven days removed from the damning report by former FBI director Louis Freeh that learned the late Joe Paterno had concealed allegations of child sex abuse against Sandusky, along with three other high-level Penn State officials, the NCAA handed down the harshest penalties to Penn State without the Committee on Infractions having a word.
One day removed from the removal of the larger-than-life bronze statue of Joe Paterno, while the monument was stored in a “secure location,” the NCAA leveled rare penalties to use Penn State as an example. And, in fairness, it was handled responsibly with disciplinary actions that fit the crime as the school must pay for its wrongdoing. Unfair as it is to those who have nothing to do with these heartless and selfish acts, Penn State is punished as a whole. It’s a real shame, but in reality, student athletes, coaches and alumni are guilty by association because they chose to commit or attend a storied university and football program that four men knew about Sandusky’s dirty secrets of sexual child abuse but kept it confidential to protect the school’s brand, reputation, and more importantly, Paterno’s legacy. It’s unfortunate, but it’s something that had to be done.
And so as a way to pay the price, the NCAA pretty much sentenced Penn State to death without handing down the Death Penalty. It’s worse than what SMU, a football program that received the most stringent punishment ever in the late 80s, endured and the NCAA sanctions can paralyze Penn State for months, years and decades. For a moment Monday morning, this stood as one of the most humiliating news conferences in college sports history, and NCAA President Mark Emmert stepped to the lectern and acted as if he was the new sheriff in town.
“In the case of Penn State, the results were perverse and unconscionable,” Emmert said. “No price the NCAA can levy will repair the grievous damage inflected by Jerry Sandusky on his victims. However, we can make clear that the culture, actions and inactions that allowed them to be victimized will not be tolerated in intercollegiate athletics.”
Rather than impose the death penalty and shut down the entire football program, he just handed down a $60 million fine, a four-year postseason ban, including the Big Ten championship game and the playoffs that goes into effect in 2014, a reduction of 40 scholarships over the next four years and 112 vacated wins. That makes Penn State alumni and the student body cringe, as a somber mood spreads on campus with the suffering and desolation from the depravity of sordid allegations and concealment by a dead football coach and three top administrators that percolates through people’s minds for all that has happened over the past months at State College. The historic sanctions against Penn State wasn’t an overreaction or even too harsh, but it was the right thing and a way to send a powerful message to every school that protecting the safety of children is the top priority over shielding a football program from vulnerability.
“There is incredible interest in what will happen to Penn State football,” Ed Ray, the chairman of the NCAA’s executive committee and Oregon State’s president said Monday. “But the fundamental chapter of this horrific story should focus on the innocent children and the powerful people who let them down.”
The NCAA and Emmert dropped the hammer and nailed Penn State football program for its role in shielding and keeping Sandusky’s misconduct of sexual molestation hush hush, refusing to stop suspected sexual abuse of children and report a longtime assistant to authorities for preying on young helpless boys. In other words, Paterno, who was docked 111 wins and stands 8th on the all-time wins from the sanctions, enabled a damn sexual predator and failed to protect the victims. It’s become obvious that Paterno moves onto the back burner, behind Florida State’s Bobby Bowden and Grambling’s Eddie Robinson. As of today, now deceased after dying at the age of 85 to lung cancer earlier in the year, Paterno is not represented as the winningest coach in college football history.
The most stunning upshot of the ordeal – and even for those Penn State folks in State College who cried and lowered their jaws in tremendous shock as Emmert caught us by surprise with his unprecedented decision – was the inconceivable penalties he announced. One of the finest and most prestigious programs, losing money from its wallet and a sense of pride even, was deprived of wins in the record books. With that in mind, Penn State, a shamed football program best known for the ugliest scandal in the history of American sports, will take decades to recover from the destruction if not permanent damage to forever wash away what the university stood for and a well-respected football culture.
“It’s important to know we are entering a new chapter at Penn State and making necessary changes,” said Penn State president Rodney Erickson. “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.”
The corruption of Penn State’s despicable outrage and disgrace, though not everybody at the institution is culpable or responsible for the actions of four men who are either dead, unemployed or going to prison, warranted an unprecedented reaction to discipline a school after enabling a pedophile. It’s one thing for an athlete to receive improper benefits from a slimy agent that is commonplace in this era of college athletics. But it’s quite another thing for a football program, along with three top Penn State officials, to ignore a child predator and not stop him from sexually abusing children on campus for at least over a decade.
Tough as it is, newly hired football coach Bill O’Brien arrived at a time when it all remained in much uncertainty. But he also knew what was likely to happen when he accepted the coaching job to replace the fired Paterno. After the NCAA enforced a punishment that was harsher than the death penalty, sabotaging an entire program for decades and years — an investigation that didn’t take months — decided Penn State’s fate. For a long time now, recruiting will become greatly difficult for O’Brien and his staff. What’s uncertain is, Christian Hackenberg, the No. 1 rated quarterback prospect who is cautious and holding back as to whether he should decommit and verbally commit to another top football program with advice from his father. The bad thing is, Greg Webb, a four-star recruit in class of 2013, has rescinded his verbal commitment to Penn State and instead has chosen to attend North Carolina.
“Today we receive a very harsh penalty from the NCAA and as head coach of the Nittany Lions football program, I will do everything in my power to not only comply, but help guide the University forward to become a national leader in ethics, compliance and operational excellence,” said O’Brien. 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.”
There’s no doubt the university is in a quandary, and sadly, this may be the end of Penn State. Indeed it is, and the school is paying for its sins. With a lack of institutional control, which involved sexual child abuse, NCAA enforcers and overseers had not conducted or launched into its normal investigation but relied heavily on the scathing Freeh Report. It concluded that Paterno, among three others, shielded the sexual child abuse allegations against Sandusky as it was more important to protect a football program and school from embarrassment.
“An argument can be made that the egregiousness in the behavior in this case is greater than any other seen in NCAA history,” Emmert said.
True, it’s the most heinous crime we’ve seen in NCAA history.