One Year Later, NCAA Justified In Penn State Sanctions
A four-year bowl ban, 40 scholarships lost over four years, $60 million in fines and 112 vacated wins.
There are other sanctions, like the university complying with the Freeh Report recommendations that the NCAA’s critics never talk about, because they don’t actually affect Penn State’s football program.
Still, the football-related sanctions created outrage because everyone thought they would cripple the football program.
Then, the team went 8-4 in its very next season, and its new head coach, Bill O’Brien, won every coach of the year award available to him. Not so crippling after all.
But, really, who cares about football when your university just accepted as truth a report accusing some of its leaders of covering up for a pedophile?
Unfortunately, that is not what upset most Penn State fans. The fact that their beloved football team was hit with unprecedented sanctions is what really angered them. It was not the death penalty, but at the time it was like sticking the needle into someone’s arm and not injecting enough of the potassium chloride to finish the job.
Get over it.
What many forget is that the university helped put the needle in the arm of the football program. What many also forget is that the NCAA can see and do as it pleases when member universities commit athletic, academic or moral infractions to benefit any athlete or athletic team. They have the power to take away a sports program completely or to not respond at all, no matter what the school’s administration, coaches or athletes did or are accused of doing. That’s the tyrannical power that 1,066 schools have agreed to give the NCAA, and that is why the sanctions against Penn State are justified.
Penn State President Rodney Erickson and members of the Board of Trustees Executive Committee only solidified the validity of the NCAA’s sanctions when they agreed to them. And, sure, sanctions almost always hurt anyone but the offenders that committed the infractions. That is the unfortunate, unfair, but necessary setup of the NCAA’s justice system, one where the governing body is the judge and jury.
Just don’t forget, in case you need to keep being reminded, that Penn State’s leaders had a hand in being the judge and jury this time. Ohio State didn’t have that luxury last year, but you won’t find any Penn State fans criticizing the NCAA’s sanctions against innocent Ohio State players and coaches, sanctions that likely cost last year’s team a national championship game appearance.
It is what Penn State and Ohio State signed up for: A justice system that is rarely able to reprimand the guilty, so it regularly slams the innocent.
Still, the NCAA sanctions against Penn State may have done some good. Sure, $60 million is a lot of money that Penn State has to pony up in four years, but even that unprecedented fine is a positive from a different perspective. That money is going toward protecting potential child abuse victims and victims of child abuse.
What is telling, however, is that the NCAA trusts Penn State so little that the university has almost no control over how any of that money is spent. Instead, only Dr. Craig Hillemeier and Dr. Nan C. Crouter, two professors appointed by Penn State, are serving on the 10-member task force charged with deciding how every cent is utilized.
Losing 40 scholarships, four years of bowls and 112 victories also hurts. It hurts the revenue that the football program brings in annually. It hurts student-athletes that will not get a Penn State education unless they pay for it themselves. It hurts a coach that, depending on where you stand, is either a hero or a corrupt enabler of child abuse.
But these three sanctions are also a deterrent. That’s really what every NCAA sanction is: A warning to everyone that this infraction will be met with justice.
And, I know, Penn State didn’t actually commit any written NCAA infraction, but that is only because the NCAA never thought it would need a rule condemning the cover-up of a pedophile.
It should not have needed one.
It may seem like the most superficial of the penalties, but I still think the abandoned victories will have the longest shelf life. Forever, when football fans see Joe Paterno's name on a list of all-time coaching wins, they will know why he fell from first to 12th. That scandal will forever stain his legacy as a coach. It's an asterisk far more devastating than Roger Maris'.