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NCAA Takes Penn State Behind the Woodshed

We knew going into today's NCAA called press conference the penalties would be "unprecedented." The assumption was the "unprecedented" part would come in the form of a massive fine. As it turns out Penn State got that and everything in the NCAA penalty arsenal.

In what can be describe as swift and brutal action against the Penn State football program, NCAA president Mark Emmert has announced a list of sanctions against the Nittany Lions in response to evidence leadership covered for convicted pedophile and former PSU assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. The penalties are:

  • $60 million fine.
  • Four year postseason ban
  • 111 wins from 1998-2011 vacated.
  • 90 scholarship reduction; 10 for 2013 and 20 starting in 2014  for a four year period.

While this isn't the "death penalty" which was last used on SMU football, it is akin to breaking someone's back, dropping them in a pit and daring them to climb out.

The fallout from these penalties will be a severely crippled Penn State football program who will have a difficult time operating with only 65 scholarships per season. The scholarship penalty makes the postseason ban almost redundant in nature since PSU's chances of making to the postseason are already reduced by scholarship limits. The late Joe Paterno's win count was 409 but is now 298 dropping him to 12th on the all-time wins list. Former FSU head coach Bobby Bowden now assumes the top spot on the list.

Because of the penalties, the NCAA is allowing all PSU players to leave without penalty. They will be permitted unlimited on-campus visits(recruits normally can take only five) and PSU transfers will not count against a school's scholarship limits. The NCAA has said that all normal contact rules will be suspended as it pertains to PSU players which means they can be contacted now. Unfortunately for current players, it is July 23rd and making a move to a new school now would be extremely difficult.

All during the Sandusky scandal, the debate over NCAA involvement has raged with some passionate arguments from both sides. On one hand you had those who believe the NCAA has to answer such an egregious cover-up on the behalf of the adminsitration and football staff. On the other side, the argument was the civil and criminal courts are more than capable of dealing with this situation and NCAA should steer clear. I probably found myself on the side of the latter in this debate since we are not talking about issues which pertain to rules by which schools compete with each other on the field/court. In other words, PSU wasn't paying players or doctoring transcripts. PSU was not engaging in a behavior which afforded them an unfair advantage over other schools nor did they actually break specified NCAA rules. In fact, I would argue what happened at PSU was so beyond the pale it flew well out of the NCAA's jurisdiction.

NCAA president Mark Emmert didn't see it that way. In fact, Emmert appeared to be taking from Sam Seaborn inThe West Wing when talking about a oil spill.

Unless a company like this is forced to fork over so much money they don't want to go on living -- unless they're compelled to pay $500 million -- there's no incentive for them to pay the extra 11 million to make the boat safer.

The NCAA see this as a level of penalty so massive no one in their right mind would ever think of doing this sort of thing again. I would hope basic human decency and the aftermath of criminal/civil litigation would accomplish the same thing however that clearly wasn't sufficient for the NCAA. Emmert seems to be responding to the "win at all costs" culture which he sees as having given birth to the thought process that led to the cover-up. I am not entirely sure it is as simple as that. I think the hyper-PR sensitive world we live in is just as much an issue meaning this was more than just "protecting football." The scandal was going to do massive damage to Penn State regardless of the football involvement. That is not how Emmert and the NCAA are viewing it however. The NCAA's belief is the football program or deference to it led to the cover-up and was even an accomplice in attracting vicitms for Sandusky. With the Freeh report concluding that conversations with Paterno possibly derailed the 2001 crimes from being reported, there is some basis for the NCAA's logic here.

In the end Emmert went for "shock and awe" and it would seem that goal was accomplished.  According to NCAA guru John Infante, the NCAA acted with PSU's cooperation which allowed for Emmert to act unilaterally. If PSU wasn't willing to accept the NCAA decision then the normal due process would not have been bypassed. In the respect, Emmert and the NCAA can be commended for quick action and levying sizable penalties in light of egregious behavior. The notion of a drawn out probe and committee meetings would have simply exacerbated an already terrible situation. By going this way, the NCAA acts and the case is closed.

In addition to the NCAA penalty, the Big Ten has announced it will withhold bowl revenue from PSU over a four year period which is a $13 million hit.