Monday, July 23, 2012

Thoughts on Penn State's 'Death Penalty'

On Monday morning, Penn State received the grim news they had been awaiting as the NCAA announced "unprecedented" sanctions on the program. It wasn't the actual 'Death Penalty' that SMU received in the late 1980's, as some had predicted. In fact, what Penn State received might have been worse.

$60M in fines, a four year bowl ban, and massive scholarship reductions highlight the punishment that many are calling the harshest in NCAA history. In most respects, I'd tend to agree. The long term bowl ban ensures the immediate destruction of the present roster, while the scholarship reductions prevent the rebuilding of it.

In short, the program is staring at a horribly bleak future. Consider what happened to SMU after they received the 'Death Penalty.' From 1980-1985, SMU went 49-9-1, winning three bowl games and finishing in the top ten three times. After getting nuked in 1987, though, SMU posted just one winning season through 2008, while finishing with 2 or fewer wins a whopping 9 times. That's a 20 year stretch of total irrelevance from a once proud football program.
Granted, Penn State is certainly a stronger program than SMU ever was, so 20 years is probably not a realistic number. But 7 years? 10 years? Those seem like very realistic figures. Make no mistake, the damage to the program is massive, both in terms of tangible penalties and perception. Honestly, the latter might be as damaging as the former. Think about it for a second...think about the anger directed towards Penn State by the majority of the nation. If you're a top college recruit -- the exact kind of recruit needed to rebuild a program -- are you really going to throw yourself in that kind of environment? Do you want to deal with the demons of the past, the vitriol from opposing fans, and the constant uphill climb to overcome these sanctions? I seriously doubt it. As I texted my Penn State friend this morning, "Bye bye, Penn State football."

With the sanctions being out there, now is the time to ask a couple questions.

1. Does the NCAA have the right to levy this punishment? - This is a popular question right now. Quite frankly, I find it shocking that people would question the legitimacy of what the NCAA did. This was, and always has been, an athletic issue that the NCAA was duty-bound to deal with. Again, in case it's not sinking in; the FOOTBALL coach and ATHLETIC DIRECTOR were orchestrating a cover up so that nobody would find out that the DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR was raping kids in the FOOTBALL FACILITY. How is this not clear?

Let me pose to you a hypothetical situation - A football program allows an agent to hang around its players and refuses to disassociate itself with the agent. The agent eventually hooks the players up with cars and cash, and the program opts to cover up the situation rather than report it. What happens in this situation?

Now, instead of an agent, you have a football program that knowingly allows an active child molester to hang around its program, and instead of getting the players in trouble, he just rapes kids in the facilities while the entire athletic department (and community, for that matter) covers it up. Easy one, right?

What you have is a program that had completely given over its soul to football. What Jerry Sandusky did was a million times worse than an agent slipping $100 bills to backup RB's, and what makes it an athletic issue is that the football coach was given the power and authority to cover it up. Joe Paterno was, in essence, running the entire university simply because he had been a wildly successful football coach. That's not lack of institutional control? That's not punishable? If the reasoning for the SMU 'Death Penalty' was to change the culture of the program, then it certainly applies here.

Not only that, but the fact that Paterno enacted the cover-up did, in fact, qualify as 'gaining a competitive edge.' You don't think the Sandusky revelation would have negatively impacted the program? You don't think recruits would think twice before going to Penn State? If not, you're just kidding yourself.

So since we can definitely determine the NCAA had the right to punish Penn State, we must now ask our final questions:

2. Did the NCAA do enough? - I think, for the most part, the NCAA did all right. Not often you get to say that -- actually, never -- but I think it's true. However, I'm not nearly as satisfied as everyone else is. Not because I think the punishments aren't harsh enough (they are), but because I think the NCAA missed the boat on why the punishments need to be in place.

To me, these sanctions should not have been about taking a sledge hammer to the program. Quite frankly, I find no solace in knowing that Penn State won't be competitive for a decade. That does nothing for me. What really troubles me about Penn State has nothing to do with the success of their football team, and everything to do with the thought process and perspective of their alumni and fan base (please note, I don't mean all of you...there are many who are reasonable). To describe it in one word; sickening. These people are so blinded by their love of PSU football and of Joe Paterno that they can't make themselves step back and see what is actually going on. They honestly believe Paterno is a good guy! They honestly believe the program should not be punished! They don't even realize how messed up they are!

With that in mind, it seems clear the NCAA whiffed a bit by not shutting the program down for at least a year. Because if there was ever a fan base that needed a break from football to get some proper perspective, it's these people.

Instead of going for the jugular with the sanctions, the NCAA could have actually enforced penalties with the long term well-being of the university instead. A program shut down would be beneficial for the fan base in gaining that perspective, and would be beneficial for the university as they try to rebuild their infrastructure. Think of all the platitudes the NCAA tries to sell about "student-athletes" and "education" and all that crap. Well here was an opportunity for them to send a clear message to the entire country by saying this to Penn State, "guys, you just had nearly every meaningful person in the university commit a heinous act...let's focus on getting the school in working condition and not worry about football for the time being."

In my mind, missed opportunity. But hey, you take what you can get from an incompetent group like the NCAA, so I won't complain. At least something was done.

Now that I'm through giving my thoughts, I'd love to hear yours. Was the punishment enough? Should they have done more? Did they even have the right to do anything? What do you think?


  1. I agree-what's the wildest to me is that knowledge of what was happening went as high as the President and Vice President of the school. Aside from losing money, do you know if there are ramifications that are climbing the ladder to all who were involved in the cover-up?

  2. All conspirators are facing serious charges and probably jail time. They aren't getting off the hook. That means the President, the Vice President, and the Athletic Director.

  3. Can we start a motion to have JoePa's corpse placed in a prison cell in between Spanier and Curley's cells, for a period of no less than 1 year?

  4. I'd be happy just to have an audio recording of his voice to play nightly from the hours of 8PM til 8AM.