The penalty doesn't fit

Few punishments could properly fit sickening Penn State scandal

It wasn’t the death penalty that some folks wanted. But it’s at least a sort of drug-induced coma.


The NCAA, which governs college athletics, hammered Penn State’s tarnished football program this week with a $60 million fine, four-year ban on postseason play, temporary 20-scholarship reduction and five-year probation. The school also must forfeit 112 wins from 1998 to 2011, roughly the period during which boys are known to have been sexually assaulted by assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.

A recent investigation by former FBI director Louis Freeh concluded that then-head coach Joe Paterno and three other high-ranking school officials conspired to protect Sandusky and the football program – and to throw the little boys to the wolves.

The day before the sanctions were announced, a statue of Paterno was properly taken down and taken inside.

It feels odd for Penn State to even field a football team after all this, and most certainly it shouldn’t do so. The school could still suspend the program voluntarily, though that appears doubtful after the NCAA sanctions.

Penn State has accepted the NCAA’s decision, and university President Rodney Erickson said it will not appeal. Given the carnage – at least 10 boys abused over a 15-year period, sometimes at the school – it would be bad form to complain much.

This is arguably the worst scandal in collegiate sports history, if not sports history in general. The Freeh report reveals that the Sandusky cover-up was both conscious and repeated.

History will debate whether the punishment fit the crime.

We don’t think it does. If this is indeed the worst scandal in collegiate sports history – and what could be worse than giving aid and comfort to a pedophile over more than a decade? – then the punishment ought to be the most severe in collegiate sports history as well. It’s not.

The football program should be suspended for a few years at least – the so-called “death penalty.” It turns the stomach to think of the school fielding a team while the many wounds of this scandal are still so fresh.

It goes to show you how easily even child victims are lost in the shuffle – and how insanely powerful football has become on college campuses.

No one gets more enjoyment out of football than we do, but the American sporting world is upside down, and we’ve got our priorities absolutely backward, when sports are the tail wagging the higher education dog. Whatever happened to the primacy of the education mission in college? God help us.

“Joe Paterno was the dictator of Penn State,” one observer wrote.

So the NCAA thinks it can right this wrong by throwing money at the problem? With the haunting thoughts of what all those boys endured under the blanket of protection that Penn State officials put over the savagery, we’re going to strip the school of prior wins and a few potential bowl games?

Come on.

“How could the most egregious acts in collegiate history not lead to the most severe penalties?” asks Chris Dufresne in the Los Angeles Times.

The NCAA’s penalties sound harsh and feel inadequate. Just before hitting Penn State, the NCAA pulled up and softened the blow.

The truth is, it’s hard to find a punishment big enough to wrap around this monstrous an offense.

Rick McKee Editorial Cartoon


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