Worse than Death?
By Brandon Castel
The NCAA handed down a punishment of biblical proportions on Monday, but not a death sentence for Penn State University.
Or was it?
There will be football in Happy Valley, this season and beyond, but what the NCAA did on Monday could viewed as life in prison for the Nittany Lions—or at least a decade behind bars.
The sanctions levied on Penn State’s football program Monday could have longer-lasting and far more crippling effects even than what was done to Southern Methodist University back in 1987—which was the first and only time the NCAA has administered the so called “Death Penalty.”
“The NCAA sanctions on Penn State, taken in sum, far exceed the severity of shutting down a program for a year or two,” the NCAA said Monday.
“Our sanctions address the cultural change necessary at Penn State. What some refer to as the death penalty was not severe enough.”
It took the Mustangs two decades to recover from the devastating blow they were dealt for paying players out of a “slush fund” in the 1970s and ‘80s, but a big part of that was the dissolution of the Southwest Conference.
Many of SMU’s former SWC partners would form what is now the Big 12 Conference, but the sanctions in Dallas left the Mustangs on the outside looking in.
Without a home to call its own, SMU moved initially to the Western Athletic Conference along with former SWC rival TCU, but eventually landed in Conference USA. It was a far cry from where they might have been without the “Death Penalty,” and the program had only one winning season from 1987-2007.
The Penn State program would have been in disarray following a death sentence from the NCAA, but the football program in Happy Valley is simply too big to fail. The Nittany Lions were fined $60 million by the NCAA, which is the equivalent of the average gross annual revenue of the football program.
This is one of the true monster programs in college football, which will ultimately pay the price for harboring one of the true monsters in our society.
Sentencing the program to death would have been one small step towards healing for the victims of Sandusky, who was allowed to operate with impunity by the men of power in Happy Valley, but it would not have been a giant leap towards changing the culture of college football.
“Imposing the death penalty does not address the cultural, systemic and leadership failures at Penn State,” the NCAA said.
“Instead, our approach demands that they become an exemplary NCAA member by eradicating the mindset that led to this tragedy.
“If imposed, the death penalty would impact far more student-athletes than those at the Penn State program. Indeed, hundreds of student-athletes who are not even Penn State students would be negatively impacted.”
Their fate would be nothing compared to those children who were abused by Sandusky for more than a decade under the noses of Joe Paterno and Penn State officials, who were all-too-willing to look the other way.
But everyone is looking at Penn State now, and while the Big Ten is standing behind Penn State, rather than pushing it off a cliff, the Nittany Lions football program could be under water for the better part of the next decade.
The $73 million fine—which must come from the football program and not from funding other athletic programs—was crafted to directly undermine the topsy-turvy set-up at Penn State, where football was king and no one wanted to risk slowing down the money train.
That money is nothing compared to the other problems Penn State now faces, including what could be a mass exodus from the current roster. The Nittany Lions are permitted to play football this fall, but whether they can field a team that won’t have to forfeit by halftime remains to be seen.
Both the NCAA and Big Ten are willing to do whatever it takes to facilitate transfers for current PSU football players, and, beginning in 2014, Penn State will have to face fellow Big Ten teams with just 65 scholarship players.
There have already a number of de-commitments in their 2013 recruiting class, and it’s only going to get worse from here. New York Times sports writer Pete Thamel projects that Penn State likely won't be back to 85 scholarships until 2020.
That’s the first time they will be able to field a full roster of scholarship players. Current PSU head coach Bill O’Brien would be in his eighth season by then. That’s only two short of Jim Tressel’s entire tenure at Ohio State.
The “Death Penalty” may have hit Penn State with similar financial sanctions—and possibly a louder and stronger message—but a year away from football would not give people in State College as much time to stop and ponder what got them here.
Because, after all, that’s what this is all about. People matter. Doing the right things matters. Kids matter. Football is just a game. It’s a game we love, but somewhere along the way it became a whole lot more.
Related Article - Penalties Surprisingly and Justifiably Harsh - By Tony Gerdeman
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