The day after Joe Paterno’s statue was removed from its permanent resting place, NCAA President Mark Emmert stood at a podium on national television as if he were a candidate for the nation’s highest office and delivered a speech on an unprecedented situation that hit every college and university campus with a direct message.
“In the Penn State case, the results were perverse and unconscionable. No price the NCAA can levy will repair the grievous damage inflicted by Jerry Sandusky on his victims,” Emmert said.
I didn’t think this was the jurisdiction of the NCAA, but rather more of a criminal matter. When I combed through the NCAA manual, there was no section that dealt with such a horrific crime against youth. We’re not talking about giving away T-shirts and hats on a recruiting visit, making too many calls to a prospect during a “dead” period or clocking hours worked on a summer job and never showing up. This was about a three men with prominent power (president, athletic director and head coach) who didn’t do enough and downright turned a blind eye to a pedophile who used the Penn State facilities as his feeding grounds.
Emmert’s tone was one of resilience and convincing strength. The former University of Washington president made a strong statement that the kind of acts Sandusky committed on a campus of higher education will have instantaneous consequences. Ed Ray, chair of the NCAA’s Executive Committee and President of Oregon State University, referred to the situation as a “conspiracy of silence at the highest levels.”
“This should serve as a stark wake-up call to everyone involved in college sports that our first responsibility,” Ray continued, “is to adhere to the fundamental values of respect, honesty and responsibility.”
The three blind men have changed the landscape of what was a proud university with great tradition, creating a rippling effect for decades to come. Coach Bill O’Brien and staff have an uphill battle, which he recognized prior to taking the job. Not even O’Brien, however, saw this coming.
On Monday, Penn State received what I’m calling the “modern day” death penalty. The announcement of sanctions fits the crime. Joe Paterno ran that university with complete power; there is a reason he stayed as long as he did. He controlled the athletic director, president, board of regents and many of the trustees.
Present coaches and student athletes, for all sports under the Penn State banner, stood tall yesterday and took their punishment. The university was fined $60 million. The Big Ten conference also placed Penn State on a four-year probation; all bowl game proceeds will go to a Child Abuse Foundation to support the victims and the education and fight against child abuse. The Big Ten is big business and, even with Penn State unable to go into postseason play (no bowl games) for four years, each team in the conference makes money – estimated at $13 million a year – regardless of their bowl eligibility.
While the university will take a big hit in the pocket, where the real setback comes is in the loss of scholarships over the four-year period. The reduction from 85 to 65 will make a difference when it’s all said and done. Coach O’Brien is busy selling his team, trying to figure out who’s on this ship moving forward because players have been granted release from their Penn State commitments and are currently free to transfer with no penalty. The university will also lose victories, as the NCAA reached back into history and forced the school to vacate all wins from 1998 to 2011. Paterno is no longer the winningest coach in Division I history, and falls down a list of fine coaches to settle at the bottom of a well-respected list of coaches who did it right.
“We had our backs to the wall on this,” Penn State president Rodney Erickson told the Centre Daily Times of Pennsylvania in an interview later Monday, saying the school accepted the penalties to avoid the so-called “death penalty” that could have resulted in the suspension of the football program for at least one year. “We did what we thought was necessary to save the program.”
The bottom line is this nightmare is about helping the victims. While they will never forget the punishment endured, both mentally and physically, their future is bright knowing that Jerry Sandusky is behind bars and won’t hurt another child again. The victims were mentioned over and over by several people speaking, from Emmert on down, and they will continue to be in everyone’s minds. After today’s swift action, it appears as though the NCAA is in great hands with Emmert at the helm. The NCAA ship, as a whole, is pointed in the right direction. The question is which port it will stop at next.
Quotes supplied by ESPN.com news services