And so it comes to this. After the worst scandal in college football history, one of the most respected programs in the nation is in shambles.
Penn State’s legendary coach has been disgraced, its leadership structure gutted, its scholarship numbers essentially reduced to I-AA levels, and its monetary losses may eventually be enough to buy a small country.
The sanctions handed down by the NCAA and Big Ten Conference are unprecedented in their scope and severity, but most surprising is how quickly the usually snail-like NCAA acted.
The NCAA normally launches its own separate investigation and makes its own findings, which can take months or years. But there was nothing normal about the Penn State case.
Everything surrounding the trial of Jerry Sandusky, the extent of Penn State’s institutional corruption and the downfall of Joe Paterno’s legacy have been so public and so ugly that drawing out the process only would have made matters worse.
And so, less than two weeks since the release of the Freeh Report, the NCAA dropped the hammer. To the tune of a $60 million fine, loss of 10 scholarships per season, four-year postseason ban, five-year probation and 112 vacated wins.
Each of those punishments individually would be plenty damaging, but all of them together are crippling. The Nittany Lions may have avoided the dreaded death penalty, but just barely.
The loss of scholarships will ensure that Penn State can’t maintain a competitive level with the rest of the Big Ten for at least the next five years. Its scholarship numbers will nearly be cut in half, from 25 per season to 15. That will cause a vicious cycle.
The reduction in scholarships will naturally decrease the number of quality athletes Penn State can recruit. That unavoidable drop will cause high profile recruits to look elsewhere, causing another dip.
And once the scholarship reduction is lifted in five years, the turnaround will not be immediate. Five-star recruits will not suddenly flock to Penn State in droves.
The football program should realistically expect a period of at least 15 years of anywhere from bad to mediocre play. It also is possible the program never returns to its previous level of success.
Which leads to the next question: Is this level of punishment reasonable and fair? As with most cases involving the NCAA, that issue isn’t so black and white.
The Penn State administration engaged in the most despicable acts I can imagine. People whose jobs were to educate and protect young people willingly looked the other way while a sex offender preyed on the innocence of children. There aren’t enough words in the dictionary to describe how reprehensible that is.
The only reason this behavior continued as long as it did was because the football program at Penn State ran the administration, not the other way around. There is no greater example of a lack of institutional control; the football program became an unstoppable monster feeding on everything around it.
So from that standpoint, the NCAA’s crackdown makes sense. Penn State is not the only school whose football program has grown out of control, so the NCAA wanted to send a message that such situations are unacceptable.
But isn’t the NCAA responsible for that lack of control? It encourages the worship of college football because it generates ungodly amounts of money. So the Penn State administration enabled Jerry Sandusky, but the NCAA enabled the out-of-control culture that made Sandusky’s behavior possible.
Making matters worse, the only people truly being punished as part of these sanctions are Penn State’s current players and coaches. They had nothing to do with any of the actions that brought the sanctions in the first place. So, as is painfully common in NCAA cases, people are being punished for the sins of their predecessors.
Maybe all of this is a long way of saying there really was no right answer. Harsh punishment was called for because something had to be done about this controversy, but any punishment seems inherently unfair because the wrongdoers are no longer affiliated with the school. So maybe this entire situation is the greatest referendum on the college football system to date.
It has long been quite clear how corrupt the system is. Institutions and companies make big bucks while the young men they exploit get no financial support in return, and the NCAA stands in hypocritical judgment of the very system it created and enabled.
I have no idea how to solve any of this, or even if any of it can be solved. That is for smarter men than I to figure out. I’m still trying to wrap my head around how any of this got as out of hand as it did. This entire situation is just sad and depressing, but I’ll keep my fingers crossed that something good can come out of this.