By the name of the law, Penn State did not receive the Death Penalty. You can just call it life without parole.
On Monday morning, millions of people watched as the NCAA ripped a football program at the seams and left them beaten and broken for the whole country to see. NCAA president Mark Emmert announced that Penn State would be hit with a $60 million fine as well as a four-year postseason ban. Also, the athletic program must reduce 10 initial and 20 total scholarships every year over a four-year period. Lastly, in what is normally an afterthought when it comes to NCAA sanctions, Penn State will vacate all wins from the 1998 season all the way through 2011. This means that the late head coach Joe Paterno drops from the winningest to the 8th winningest head coach in college football history, a final blow to what has become a muddy and tarnished memory of the one-time coaching legend.
So why no death penalty for an athletic program that covered up the worst scandal in the history of college athletics, you ask. I mean, SMU’s scandal only involved pay for play. Administrators and athletic directors weren’t keeping shut about a monster lurking around their campus and committing heinous sexual acts on innocent children. SMU was forced to sit out a full season in 1987 and opted to sit out the following year because they couldn’t field a viable squad. It was only until 2009 that the Mustangs finally appeared in another bowl game. While both situations fall under the NCAA ruling of “lack of institutional control,” I ask you which scandal deserves the death penalty and which one doesn’t.
In my honest opinion, the sanctions handed down to Penn State were accurate, appropriate, and can actually be considered a gift to the students, alumni, and fans of the university. Right now your football program is laying on the ground with a busted up face, a couple of broken ribs, and the inability to breathe properly. And to be honest, no one is really coming to your side to try to pick you up right away. Millions of people can’t look at a Penn State logo without thinking about former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky (the recently convicted monster mentioned above) and his numerous crimes. They can’t look at the logo without thinking about a one-time legend not doing nearly enough to stop a monster from continuing to ruin kids lives. In the eyes of millions of Americans, you are kind of on your own.
But here is why you can consider this ruling a gift in a couple ways. For starters, those kids can continue to play football every Saturday this fall. That means students and fans will be able to pack in Beaver Stadium and watch their Nittany Lions play football for three hours. That in itself will keep those surrounding business in University Park thriving and continue to bring in revenue for the program. But most importantly, this has becoming the greatest rebuilding job in the history of college athletics for acting athletic director Dave Joyner and new head coach Bill O’Brien. The entire program has an opportunity to build the football program from basically the ground up and in any path that they want. They can properly complete a “culture change” about the administrations in charge and understand that the 11 men on the field are never more important than even one person suffering off of it.
Think of the situation in terms of a football game: the ball is at your own 1-yard line and you have to get the ball across 100 yards and into their end zone to score. There are thousands of ways to get the ball across those 300 feet. But instead of getting angry and trying a Hail Mary on the first play, focus on picking up yards and first downs. Accept these sanctions and understand that you have been given a gift of still having football, despite the struggles that will ensue for at least a decade in Happy Valley.
What will also help this process is keeping the Paterno statue away and under wraps for several years. Statues are meant to immortalize individuals without creating a debate amongst people of whether or not the figure should be up. As soon as people begin challenging the purpose of a statue, it becomes moot, and the statue must be handled properly. For those who idolize Joe Pa and continue to keep the blinders on and not accept that he made any mistakes, you can hope that in a decade your team has found its way off the ground and back to its feet. This way, talking about the statue again can be heard respectfully and without a chorus of jeers. If you can rebuild the system and eliminate the stench of this scandal as much as you possible, then putting the statue back up won’t feel as though you are bringing back a dark era of Penn State, like it was doing today.
The last thing I have to say is for the students of Penn State and I want to make this pretty clear: these sanctions aren’t fair to you. They aren’t fair to the players who are playing there now. They aren’t fair to the players who played from 1998-2011. They aren’t fair to the alumni who live and die Penn State football every fall and who now will have at least a decade of nearly irrelevant ball. But one of the social and economic structures we have in this world is that the mistakes of the superior always end up costing the inferior in some way. If a Fortune 500 CEO mismanages his business, hundreds of his subordinates lose their jobs. If an athletic program and a legendary head coach don’t follow the proper procedures or try and hide the actions of a pedophile in their university, the punishment will be felt across the ENTIRE school. You can declare it unfair and an injustice to Penn State players for this and that, but what difference does it make? I reached out to a couple of kids I know who attend the school and they all told me to go away. I can understand the frustration and not wanting to talk about it, but I think we all can agree that getting a black eye from the NCAA is easier to take than living with the memory of being sexually abused by a grown man as a child.
So you are laying there at rock bottom with barely a breath in your lungs. There’s someone who has been hired to help you find your way back to your feet, but only if you can complete the necessary steps on your own. There is no doubt that the entire Penn State family will come together this fall and begin the process of healing the wounds. Acceptance of the penalties and embracing the opportunity for change will go a long way in making this process less emotionally draining than continuing to fight the system. And, who knows, there might be a day sooner than later when America looks upon you and decides its ok to root for the blue and white again. It just won’t be today.
Welcome to Hell, Penn State. Let’s see if you can find your way back out.