The NCAA’s Penn State Sanctions Might As Well Be The Death Penalty

  • Glenn Davis

Over the weekend, as the statue of Joe Paterno outside Beaver Stadium came down, more Penn State news came up: namely, that the NCAA was about to come down hard on Penn State football with sanctions. This morning, the NCAA did just that. As announced by NCAA president Mark Emmert, the major sanctions are as follows:

– A $60 million fine that will be used to create an endowment to “serve the victims of childhood sexual abuse.” (The $60 million amount is about equal to a year of gross revenue for Penn State football.)
– Four-year postseason ban for football.
– Initial scholarships reduced from 25 to 15 for four years, total scholarships reduced from 85 to 65. Additionally, players in the program can transfer without sitting out a year.
– All Penn State wins from 1998-2011 vacated (a.k.a. Joe Paterno’s wins record is no more).
– Five years of probation.

Needless to say, that is a lot. (And it’s not everything, since Emmert said the NCAA reserves the right to continue investigating the issue on its own, and is requiring the school to adopt the recommendations put forth in the Freeh report.) It’s not the “death penalty,” since Penn State will still play football this year, but it’s facing a serious uphill battle while doing so, and for several years going forward. Don’t ask us how, but Penn State was doing very well in recruiting this year – with these punishments in place, that might be over – to say nothing of the years to come.

Still, no matter how understandable the desire is for the NCAA to do something here, and no matter that it’s tempting to praise the organization for taking swift, decisive action for once, this still feels like vigilante justice. For one thing, the people at the top at Penn State – those who allowed Sandusky to go on unchecked – are all gone. It doesn’t mean the culture at the school doesn’t still need changing, but those who’ll be impacted the most by these sanctions will essentially be collateral damage.

Additionally, this decicion was highly unusual for the NCAA. It based its sanctions on the Freeh report, not its own investigation. Plenty have raised questions as to the NCAA’s fitness to issue sanctions here at all, but even for those who thought the NCAA should have acted, it didn’t act in a way it normally does – it acted in a way that could give it more power to issue harsh punishments, and quickly, going forward. Maybe it won’t – Emmert noted this is a “very unique circumstance” – but the possibility is now on the table.

There will be debate for years going forward about whether the NCAA’s actions here were appropriate, but the actions have been taken, and they were as strong as anyone could have predicted. Penn State football is in for a rough time for a number of years going forward. What happened there was unimaginably terrible – only time will tell whether these sanctions help ensure nothing like it happens again – or whether they’re more about the NCAA wanting to look tough.

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