Penn State ruling gives program a clean break
NCAA President Mark Emmert called the events that occurred at Penn State “unprecedented” Monday.
Then, he handed down an unprecedented punishment.
With a four-year bowl ban, numerous scholarship losses and a hefty $60 million fine, the Penn State program can now try to move forward.
In what some have called the biggest power play by an NCAA president in decades, Emmert delivered a stern decision after the officials in State College, Pennsylvania could not make one.
For years, those officials allowed the “Tickle Monster,” better known as defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, sexually assault children in the locker rooms and halls that Joe Paterno had so devotedly built.
Now, Bill O’Brien takes the reins of the program. O’Brien was hired in the wake of Paterno’s dismissal to lead the program JoePa had built with glory and tradition but tarnished amid scandal.
Emmert was swift—something Penn State and its officials never were. When the tough decision needed to be made, they looked the other way. Not Emmert and the NCAA.
Granted, this is a case best carried out in our courts. But in the meantime, if the National Collegiate Athletic Association were to look the other way and sit idly by just as the Penn State suits did when former assistant Mike McQueary witnessed Sandusky fondle a child in the locker room, then the NCAA should be guilty of a crime. Such heinous acts and blatant disregard for authority and this nation’s law warranted the NCAA’s reaction.
This won’t be easy, and some will say it isn’t fair. But what is fair? If it costs Penn State loyalists a loss of whatever pride remains, a few less bowl appearances and a few losing records, will it somehow surpass what was done to those children in the showers of Penn State locker rooms or in Sandusky’s basement?
See, in college sports, we sometimes lose sight of the big picture. Sports are where we, everyday people, can escape everyday life. Sports are where we escape the sameness and, at times, the tribulations of day-to-day activities. But here we see one man’s everyday life conflict with college athletics, tarnish the sport and ruin the lives and psyches of young adults.
Had this been an isolated incident, perhaps a self-reported incident sent by Penn State to the NCAA, perhaps this could have gone another way. But this wasn’t an isolated incident. And it was far more than a primary or secondary NCAA violation. This was a moral and physical violation of sexual and human rights.
This was decision after decision of upper-level Penn State suits and its (in)famous, formerly-winningest football coach in Division 1, choosing constantly to look the other way—to not do what was right. In essence, the cover-up committed at Penn State makes Jim Tressel and Big-10 rival Ohio State's tattoo scandal look trivial. When SMU received the death penalty in the '80s, the program was giving impermissible benefits to players, not sexually abusing innocent, vulnerable children and then forcing them to live in silence because a few big wigs didn't feel it was important enough to expose and address.
Yet, loyalists and critics expect somehow a lesser response, a less stringent punishment. They say it’s not fair to current players. The current players are free to leave. There needs to be a clear distinguishing transition from the Paterno/Sandusky era to the new, morally-capable Bill O’Brien era.
It’s unfair, in the interim without some kind of program suspension, to say that Bill O’Brien has successfully taken over this program, when players recruited by Paterno remain in the program, when anyone who had contact with the power players in State College are still involved with the program.
In order to have a clean program, Penn State must clean house.
O’Brien should stay. After all, he was hired amid the allegations, not during the actions. Though he does have connections to Sandusky and Paterno from his playing days, it’s unfair to throw him out with the rest.
Of course, the players on the current roster aren’t guilty of any violations. But they’re in an unfortunate circumstance, and unfortunate circumstances sometimes call for unfortunate results. In this case, if the players stay, is that any more fair? To play two seasons, three seasons or however much eligibility remains without being able to play in a bowl game? What about when the locker room size dwindles from 80 scholarship players to 70 to 60. Is that fair to the student-athletes? Instead of suspending the program, the NCAA has essentially handicapped it. Is that more fair?
If the NCAA had decided to suspend the program, it could have allowed players to go elsewhere and coaches uninvolved with the scandal to stick around if they wish. Then, four years from now those loyalists and critics that currently believe the NCAA has no right to set forth this punishment will have something to look forward to. They will have a reason to reconvene with fellow friends and fans in State College.
No, there will be neither a statue of Paterno nor will the old man roam the sideline.
But there will be something to look forward to, if only slightly, that arises from such a dark, desolate time.
In a situation where there seem to be no good answers, no positive results, nothing fair, perhaps that’s the best way.
Regardless of the specifics of Emmert’s decision, as stern as it was, the extremity and seriousness of the sanctions were warranted.
In a case that shook the lives of so many, we should hope that these sanctions—coupled with a more strict standard for morality and integrity in higher education—prevent this disgusting, unprecedented situation from serving as a precedent for anything similar in the future.
We can only hope that those who support the Penn State program believe that as well.
University president Rodney Erickson, who replaced Graham Spanier after he was fired in the Sandusky aftermath, said Monday in reference to the NCAA’s decision “Working together, the path ahead will not be easy.”
He’s right. Looking back, taking the easy road lead Penn State to its current debacle and state of shame. Perhaps taking the difficult path, the one set by the NCAA with the aforementioned sanctions, will allow closure of this period of deceit and despair. Then again, for everyone involved, with damaged young souls and ruined reputations, there will never be a winner, regardless of punishment.
Printed in the July 26, 2012 edition.