On the surface, justice seems served – at least on the Penn State side of the ledger.
Jerry Sandusky is in jail and should never get out to terrorize children again.
Joe Paterno, who died in January, lost his job and reputation, was stripped of 111 coaching victories and had his graven image removed from in front of the stadium.
The administration officials who participated in the “conspiracy of silence” all lost their jobs and two still face perjury charges.
The football program was hobbled with NCAA sanctions that will restrict its ability to compete at its familiar high level beyond the four-year window of postseason bans.
The school has to fork over $60 million – more than the average annual gross revenue in football – to endow programs to prevent child abuse. Much more will eventually be paid to the victims in civil suits.
Two weeks ago when I suggested a voluntary sabbatical from football this fall or else the NCAA stepping in to impose the “death penalty,” response was sharply divided. Many thought it was too harsh and would only punish the innocent players and State College, Pa., community that relies on football as an economic generator.
Well, the death penalty would have been a wrist slap compared to what Penn State got. Instead of a temporary timeout to illustrate remorse and allow the Nittany Lions community to reflect on the consequences of its misplaced values, they got a long-term plan of “corrective actions to ensure the intended change of culture” that led to the callous institutional abuse.
“An argument can be made that the egregiousness of the behavior in this case is greater than any other seen in NCAA history and that therefore a multi-year suspension is warranted,” said NCAA president Mark Emmert. “After much debate, however, we concluded that sanctions needed to reflect our goal of driving cultural change as much as apply punitive actions.”
The way the NCAA has chosen to “drive cultural change” is to ensure that Penn State football gets used to losing for awhile. Penn State fans experiencing what it’s like to be Vanderbilt for the next decade or so will certainly be a culture shock to the 100,000 who flock to worship the Nittany Lions on fall Saturdays.
No one should feel too sorry for the Penn State football players or fans (or the Paterno family which would be well advised to stop talking and let it rest of peace).
The players were granted the option to leave without transfer limitations if they desire to play for a competitive program, stay and play if their hearts are still with Penn State or simply complete their educations with their scholarship terms in tact.
And the Nittany Lions fans aren’t without blame in enabling the “hero-worship” culture that led to the tragic mishandling of information regarding Sandusky’s heinous actions. Some of that blind allegiance still exists despite everything that’s come to light of the “perverse and unconscionable” choices Penn State’s leadership made at the expense of Sandusky’s young victims.
“One of the grave dangers stemming from our love of sports is that the sports themselves can become ‘too big to fail, or even too big to challenge,” said Emmert. “The result can be an erosion of academic values that are replaced by the value of hero worship and winning at all costs.”
This culture is not unique to Penn State, of course. It’s pervasive in big-time college football. Some of those very same features are displayed in unhealthy affection shown to our regional football bastions in the Southeastern and Atlantic Coast conferences. The sins of Penn State should serve as an example to everyone to not let the devotion to athletics success and “heroes” blind them to what’s right and wrong.
To the NCAA’s credit, it didn’t sit idly by and let Penn State simply resume business as usual in football. A bowl ban and 40 percent reduction in scholarships for four years, the vacating of Paterno’s all-time victory perch and five years of probation will resonate for many seasons in Happy Valley and beyond.
It wasn’t the death penalty – a four-year sentence that new university president Rodney Erickson said was on the table if he didn’t accept the NCAA’s sanctions. But this punishment sets the right tone for what an institution should pay for abusing its control to protect itself and its football program instead of innocent children.