Monday, July 23, 2012

Why Penn State escaped the NCAA's "death penalty"

The word from the NCAA has come down, and it's very, very bad news for the Penn State football program, including:

* A four-year ban from bowl games.

* All wins from 1998 to 2011 vacated -- which means Joe Paterno's career coaching wins fall from 409 to 298, and the Nittany Lions will lose six bowl championships and two conference titles.

* A $60 million fine, specifically intended to create an endowment to "external programs preventing child sexual abuse or assisting victims," and specifically not to aid programs at Penn State.

* A reduction of 20 scholarships for each of the next four years.

* A five-year probation, under which Penn State will be subject to an athletic integrity monitor to be chosen by the NCAA.

One factor that will have an immediate and even more-crippling effect on the Penn State program is that current scholarship players will be allowed to transfer and play at new schools immediately, without losing a year of eligibility.

The effect on the program will be profound for the foreseeable future. With its scholarships cut in half for four years and current players allowed -- if not encouraged -- to leave and play elsewhere, new coach Bill O'Brien and his staff will have a daunting and near-impossible task of attracting and signing recruits to join a decimated program that realistically has no shot at being even close to competitive in the Big Ten for a long time. Eight-to-10 years before the Nittany Lions' next winning season is a conservative estimate.

"I knew when I accepted the position that there would be tough times ahead," O'Brien said in a statement. "But I am committed for the long term to Penn State and our student athletes."

There were those who said the expected sanctions would be worse than the NCAA's "death penalty," and that nuclear option -- which would have shut down the program entirely for one year -- would have been preferable. And they may be right.

But in announcing the penalties Monday morning, NCAA president Mark Emmert said while considerable thought and discussion had been given to such a measure,  the committee decided against it due to the harm such a sanction would have caused to "innocent people" who had nothing to do with Jerry Sandusky's crimes and the ensuing silence from Paterno and the school's administration detailed in the Freeh Report -- including current Penn State players, opposing Big Ten teams and schools and people who make a living from Penn State games (stadium workers, concessionaires, area hotels, restaurants, etc.).

And in the wake of a scandal and coverup that violated the lives and well-being of countless innocent victims, isn't that entirely right and appropriate?

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