Paterno & Penn St.: Punishment, Penance, and Perspective

Most sports related scandals are like a geyser…they bubble up, spout forth for a brief moment, and then return to a state of dormancy within a brief period of time so the next big story can take its place at the top of the hierarchy for the talking heads on ESPN and talk radio to chew on ‘til it is deader than Pauley Shore’s career. But the events that have plagued Pennsylvania State University not only have continued to boil vociferously for nearly a year, but they have been simmering for more years than anyone really knew…except for those in charge in “Happy” Valley, which of course has been a huge part of the problem.

 

The NCAA has finally…and predictably…put in their two cents and lowered the proverbial boom. I have mixed feelings about the suits using the results of Penn St.’s own commissioned investigation against them instead of doing an independent inquiry, but I suppose it does make things more efficient and expedite the process. It isn’t as if a new report by a different panel would find anything all that different anyway.

 

First of all, I have no problem with the NCAA getting involved and handing out a punishment. While the scandal doesn’t have anything directly to do with on-the-field issues or even any kind of academic situation, the “cover-up” of proliferate child sexual abuse can be directly attributed to the desire of Coach Paterno and others to save the reputation & high standing of the university and the football program. Joe Paterno wasn’t the first football coach to attain far too much power and achieve god-like status in his gridiron fiefdom, and he won’t be the last. As much as I love sports even I must admit that collegiate athletics has, in many places, achieved such mythological, epic, grandiose heights of popularity & prestige that fans, players, media, and coaches are put on pedestals that rise to the heavens and cause a complete loss of perspective. That is exactly what happened at Penn St. Football became more important than the rule of law and the well-being of young boys who were being molested by a sick monster. An effort to keep things “in house” and not pursue proper avenues of justice enabled a perverted pedophile to continue his debauchery for an additional decade. Nothing can be done to erase what happened to those boys and the legal system has done its part in punishing Jerry Sandusky…all that remained was for Penn St. to answer for their sins, to have proper perspective be restored by any means necessary. It is true that those who actually committed the crimes and perpetuated the conspiracy of silence are long gone and that it seems a tad bit unfair that coaches, players, and administrators who had nothing to do with any of the wrongdoing are now going to suffer the consequences, but it had to be done. A message had to be sent. The NCAA had to make it clear that, as much as many of us enjoy those autumn Saturday afternoons…the roar of the crowd, the sweet music of the marching bands, the thrill of winning a rivalry game, the chase for a conference title, bowl bid, or even a national championship…there are more important things in life. Football is magnificent. College football is sublime. But God, family, the law…they must come first. If Penn St. and its fans have to wander through the desert of mediocrity and lose their status & reputation as one of football’s elite powerhouses for a while in order to regain proper perspective then that seems like the least they could do considering what their culture of pigskin profligacy cost others.

 

As far as the punishment goes…there’s no way around the fact that it is harsh, but frankly I was expecting worse.

 

There is a $60 million fine that will go toward programs benefiting victims of sexual abuse. At first glance that number seems outrageous. $60 million is more than you, me, and the 500 people on our Facebook “friends” list will see combined in our lifetimes (unless there are super wealthy folks reading The Manofesto, which if true…well…call me!!). However, it is the equivalent to ONE year of revenue for the football program. Stop for a moment and ponder that…just let it sink in and wrap itself around your brain. That is amazing. Now granted, whether you are dependent upon government social programs & are lucky to be able to afford ramen noodles & peanut butter, have a decent middle class income that affords you such luxuries as satellite TV and an annual trip to the beach, or are lounging on your yacht as your trust fund grows, the fact is that having a whole year of income taken away would sting a bit…but for Penn St. it shouldn’t have too big of an impact. They can survive.

 

I am not a big fan of vacating wins. It seems silly. Those games have been played and we all know who won. One cannot change the past. But the traditions of sport include record keeping and those records hold a lot of meaning for many people, so while I think that it is trivial that Penn St. has to vacate all games played between 1998 and 2011 I am fully cognizant of the fact that it is a big deal to others. What it specifically means is that Joe Paterno is no longer the winningest coach in the history of college football and has now fallen to an inconsequential 8th on that list. I guess it kind of stinks to pile on a guy that is dead, but hey…that dead guy should have stepped up and done the right thing when he was alive. Interesting trivia: a fantasy football buddy of mine pointed out that Penn St. and Ohio St. (which has had some issues of their own) played a game in 2010 that both have now vacated, so according to the record books it never happened. I bet the 100k people that were there that day might disagree.

 

A bigger impact will be felt by the on-the-field restrictions imposed by the NCAA and The Big 10 (they are still calling themselves that??). Penn St. is prohibited from competing for the conference title or playing in a bowl game for 4 years. They also lost a significant number of scholarships. NCAA rules allow a football team to have a total of 85 scholarships. Teams can offer up to 25 scholarships annually as long as the total number does not exceed 85. Penn St., for the next four years, cannot have more than 65 total scholarships each season and cannot offer more than 15 scholarships annually. That is huge. It will cripple the program for atleast a decade. The numbers combined with the lack of postseason and the now toxic (to say the least) reputation of the school means that instead of recruiting highly touted, extremely talented & athletic, elite 5 star football players the Penn St. Nittany Lions will be fielding teams populated with players that no one else wanted and might otherwise have been playing in front of 10k people at a Division III school. Penn St. will lose games…lots of them. They will not be on television. One can anticipate that instead of an electric atmosphere of 106,000 people at Beaver Stadium (the 4th largest stadium in the world…and two of the other three are soccer stadiums) the folks in State College, PA could lose interest and we might see only 50 or 60 thousand in the stands. Ancillary businesses…restaurants, hotels, retail outlets…will suffer. The NCAA may not have given Penn St. the dreaded “death penalty” (which in reality is simply a one year hiatus), but the punishment they did mete out is, for all intents & purposes, a far worse fate.

 

One of the things that defenders of Paterno have consistently pointed out over the course of the past several months is how much he contributed…financially and otherwise…to the school and the town for many many years. That is all true and should not be completely marginalized. However, his (and others) actions…or lack thereof…in regard to the heinous crimes of Jerry Sandusky are now having a destructive effect on the school and the town. The decision to protect the status of the program has instead almost extinguished its flame. What a sad yet well-deserved irony. Perspective has indeed been restored at Penn St., and I suspect the people there will never again think so highly of themselves and their precious football team. I wonder what Coach Paterno would think about that??

 

 

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