Sophomore Laura Lovins, right, and other Penn State students react after sanctions against the football program are announced Monday.
The NCAA announced Monday morning that it would levy debilitating and nearly unprecedented sanctions on the Penn State football program, following the conviction of former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky on 45 counts of sexual abuse of young boys and the release of the Freeh Report — which found that late head coach Joe Paterno and three other high-ranking university officials knew about the abuse and failed to take action.
The collegiate athletics governing body vacated all of the team’s wins between 1998 — when the abuse was allegedly reported to Paterno — and 2011, fined the school $60 million, banned the team from participation in bowl games for four years and cut 40 total scholarships over the same period.
Was the punishment too much? Not enough? That depends entirely on who’s talking.
The Internet exploded Monday after news of the sanctions broke — reactions ran the gamut from surprised approval to outrage to scathing mockery.
Depending on who you listened to, the NCAA was a beacon of moral behavior, a toothless, cowardly farce or a vindictive monster with a misplaced sense of justice.
But all basically agreed that the sanctions will cripple Penn State for years to come.
A school can’t recover from any one of those penalties easily, let alone the combination. When the final, fatal blow is added to the once-hallowed image of a legendary coach, it’s safe to say that Penn State football will take decades to regain some semblance of its former glory.
For that reason, some have spoken out against the severity of the punishments. Former PSU cornerback Adam Taliaferro, who suffered a debilitating spinal cord injury playing for the Nittany Lions in 2003, tweeted the following yesterday:
“NCAA says games didn’t exist..I got the metal plate in my neck to prove it did..I almost died playing for PSU..punishment or healing?!?”
Sports Illustrated’s Stewart Mandel was similarly disappointed in the decision, but for the impact it will have on the program’s future rather than the vacated wins.
“For the sins of Joe Paterno, Graham Spanier, Gary Schultz and Tim Curley, the NCAA dropped the hammer on Bill O’Brien, Matt McGloin, Silas Redd and 20 players who won’t be able to receive scholarships from Penn State over the next four years,” Mandel wrote. “Justice has been served, assuming your idea of justice for rape victims is to deprive a school of its next four Outback Bowl invitations.”
The point resonates because, unlike in so many other incidents worthy of NCAA sanction, the culture of the program itself was not broken.
This wasn’t Southern Methodist or even Ohio State, where bribery and debauchery ruled. This was one sick individual and a handful of others too cowardly or too power-hungry to act. Players and most coaches were not complicit in this horrifying violation.
But the crimes committed were just that: horrifying.
While it’s true that the guilty parties lost their jobs over the scandal and will face prosecution, the fact of the matter remains that Sandusky’s crimes were covered up for the sake of the football program. The NCAA felt it needed to send a message that some things are more important than football.
“The sanctions announced by the NCAA today defame the legacy and contributions of a great coach and educator,” the Paterno family wrote in a statement in response to the sanctions.
What the family appears to be missing is that this isn’t an improper benefits or game-fixing scandal; nobody believes that the Sandusky cover-up had anything to do with the outcome of the stricken games.
The sole purpose of vacating those games was to send a message that now matter how great one’s sporting achievements, one has a responsibility to act as a responsible human being first and foremost.
The NCAA announced to the world yesterday that if you cover up something so heinous, your football accolades don’t matter.
Still, there’s something incongruous here.
If the NCAA has the “death penalty,” the outright cancellation of an entire season, in its arsenal, why not use it? Were the violations at SMU really more severe than Sandusky’s crimes?
Some claim that the Penn State sanctions are harsher than the death penalty, but it’s hard to argue with the fact that the Mustangs took two decades to return to relevance. Yes, there’s the argument mentioned earlier — a punishment so harsh would unfairly harm the players, who were innocent.
But it’s undeniable that the NCAA is sending a mixed message.
If the reasoning for such harsh sanctions is that the crimes were greater than football, then why can’t it use its greatest weapon, one it has used before for football-related violations?
Deadspin’s Drew Magary weighed in yesterday with a scathing attack on the NCAA.
“I see what you did there. You handed down enough meaty punishment for everyone to nod along in approval, but you didn’t cross the line and risk a backlash by destroying the program outright by your own hand,” Magary wrote. “Punishing a school is what helps the NCAA justify its existence to people, to say to the country, ‘WE ARE IN CONTROL HERE, EVERYONE.’”
While Magary’s piece contains vitriol usually reserved for war criminals, the point remains valid.
The only logical reason for the restraint is the prestige of Penn State’s program, which is not a reason at all. The NCAA, as Magary wrote, is “putting a band-aid on an amputated head.”
The NCAA could have simply allowed law enforcement and the university handle the situation. Instead, it took it upon itself to make a statement about the standard of behavior expected of its member school employees, which was admirable.
But because the NCAA didn’t go all the way, Magary and the legions of like-minded fans will remain skeptical about the motivations behind its decision.
In the face of the greatest scandal in the history of college sports, the governing body left its fans feeling just as queasy as ever.
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