…what Penn State needs to have happen to them is something worse than the death penalty.
Penn State needs to be completely ruined by the NCAA. Penn State needs to be hit so hard that it’s a decade before they’re competitive in football at a level where it’s conceivable the university’s higher-ups would allow a football coach to have the kind of power and protection that Joe Paterno abused there.
After considering this, one theory I have is that Paterno was adamant about staying at Penn State not because he was one of those “work-until-you-die” types like everybody said he was, but because he was the Jacques Chirac of college football. For those who don’t get the analogy, Chirac was such a corrupt French premier that he had to continue running for office over and over again for fear that if a political opponent ever took office he would find himself buried under the jail.
And that might have been Paterno’s story. He knew he had covered for Jerry Sandusky’s sexual abuse of young boys for a very long time, and he knew the minute he no longer had Penn State in his pocket as the legendary football coach that skeleton was going to tumble not just out of the closet but all the way to the busy street outside the house.
Which happened anyway, even before Paterno’s tenure came to an end. Though the runaway skeleton certainly ended it.
The NCAA needs to make an example out of Paterno and Penn State tomorrow morning. Word has it that while this won’t be the death penalty it will be something so awful that the death penalty might actually be preferable. And that’s as it should be.
SMU got the death penalty, of course, and it destroyed their football program. It was 20 years before SMU posted a winning season again, and even now with June Jones having returned them to some degree of respectability they’re still nowhere near what they were in the 1980’s. Baylor and TCU, two of the other three private universities in Texas who compete in major-college football, have returned to status as Top 25 caliber programs; SMU can’t stay on the field with them for any length of time.
SMU, though, is a different animal than Penn State. SMU is a rather small private school with a fairly small fan base. SMU is in a huge city the majority of the population of which is from somewhere else, and SMU football is a blip on the radar. Compare that to Penn State, which is THE school in one of the most populous states in the country and which is located in a remote area in the middle of the state where there is nothing else going on. In fact, outside of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia Penn State is IT where college sports are concerned.
And that means that just hitting Penn State with a one- or two-year death penalty doesn’t mean all that much. They could bring their program back with a recruiting class full of redshirts and then another full of junior-college and Division 1 transfers, and by Year Three or Year Four coming back from the death penalty Penn State could very conceivably be competing for a bowl bid in front of 100,000 fans again.
So instead, here’s a suggested punishment that would lay Penn State low for a very long time; in fact, it would put them at such a competitive disadvantage that they’d struggle to find enough quality recruits to get out of the Big Ten cellar.
Here’s what I would do…
1. A $50 million up-front fine, to be paid to charities for abused kids at the NCAA’s direction and discretion. Penn State reportedly has an endowment of $1.8 billion; they can afford to pay a $50 million fine – and they’ll pay a heck of a lot more than that once they start reaching settlements with Sandusky’s victims. But a big hit like that will serve notice to the rest of the college football world that it’s going to be extremely expensive in the future to have out-of-control football or basketball programs – and particularly if those programs are abetting serious criminal behavior like Penn State did.
2. A three-year bowl ban. It’s unlikely that Penn State will be going bowling anytime soon, given the rest of the penalties one would expect them to receive and the damage the Sandusky case has done to their recruiting. But hammering them with a bowl ban means their fans and players will know the season ends the week before Thanksgiving; that’s a good way to force the Penn State community to de-emphasize football.
3. The loss of 100 scholarships over the next four years. This would be the largest cut into a team’s scholarship allotment in history, and it would force Penn State to play with 60 players a year; that would mean they’ve actually got a smaller scholarship roster than the Football Championship Subdivision. Those numbers would likely tear down Penn State’s recruiting base, because when you don’t have scholarships to offer to kids in Altoona and Wilkes-Barre you’re going to lose those kids to Pittsburgh and West Virginia and Syracuse; a few years of that happening and it then becomes very difficult to land your top targets. Not to mention that you simply won’t have the depth to get through a major-conference schedule with only 60 players; the Nittany Lions’ depth chart would be full of walkons.
4. All current players eligible to transfer immediately, and here’s something more; since these sanctions are coming down late in the year, let’s also say that Penn State transfers don’t count against the 85-man limit. Or at least up to five of them per team wouldn’t. And that would mean that PSU’s roster would likely be gutted, particularly of the younger talent. This has to be done, since the players are blameless for Sandusky’s crimes and they should at least have an escape clause protecting them from a ruined college career.
5. No TV revenue for three years; this should perhaps be as long as a five-year revenue ban. There’s no point in keeping Penn State off TV; that merely punishes their opponents and costs them a chance to play on the tube. But if Penn State can’t collect TV revenue, that would mean everybody else in the Big Ten would get a piece of their share. Which puts them at an even larger competitive disadvantage. And this piece requires that there be lasting financial damage, which is important – our $50 million fine above simply means they get hit once; taking the TV money means they’re not going to be turning a profit in football (or at least not the profit they’re making now) any time soon.
6. The installation of an NCAA office on campus as a monitor for Penn State’s athletic compliance, with Penn State required to pay for all office costs. This won’t really do anything to hurt Penn State, but what it will do is send a message that the NCAA can open up a Special Branch on your dime which will camp out on your campus and rat you out for everything you do that even gives off the aroma of noncompliance. And the duration of this Rat Patrol should be indefinite, so the idea that just laying low for a while before going back to normal shouldn’t be operative. Again, we’re making an example out of Penn State which ought to scare the hell out of anybody else who’s engaged in behavior they shouldn’t be.
7. Permanent disassociation from major college football programs for any coaches or administrators who were around when the Sandusky abuse was going on. There should be an appeal process, as some of these coaches could have been oblivious to what was happening. But the Freeh report indicates that inappropriate behavior like taking showers with kids was relatively common at Penn State, and given the fact there were longstanding rumors about Sandusky’s behavior going back more than 15 years and Sandusky continued to have a presence in that program, most of the coaches there should have known something untoward was happening. That nobody over there seemed to care, or if they did they obviously valued their careers more than they were willing to potentially cross Paterno and help prevent Sandusky’s victims, the NCAA needs to kill their careers. If they want to fight that, fine – go prove you didn’t have anything to do with what was going on there. It’s harsh – unduly so. But when there was ample reason to know Sandusky was doing something so monstrous with those kids for so long a period, and the same assistant coaches were on hand year after year, it’s justice. They’re all complicit because of their silence.
Penn State’s program was a poisonous swamp of deceit and cover-your-ass. Penn State was a perfect example of how a sick organization can spin out of control thanks to the cowardice and selfishness of the people in it. And that’s why the NCAA should take steps to make it impossible for such a culture to take root ever again at that school – while creating an example scaring other programs into operating at such a high level of integrity that college athletics can truly claim to uphold the best values of our society.
Just giving Penn State a one- or two-year holiday from football isn’t enough. They need a punishment worse than death.
UPDATE: Here are the sanctions that were given— The football team has been banned from all post-season play and bowl games for four years, the program’s number of scholarships has been cut from 25 to 15 per year for four years and the program was fined $60 million.
The association also vacated all wins between 1998 and 2011 and the program will be on probation for five years. Current Penn State players will immediately be allowed to transfer without sitting out a year.