The NCAA on Monday clobbered Penn State’s football program, imposing some of the harshest penalties ever levied against a member university. The punishments addressed former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky’s serial molestation of young boys over a period of years and the university’s efforts to cover up the abuse, some of which took place on campus.
The sanctions include stripping the football team of 12 years of victories under the late coach Joe Paterno, fines of $60 million, banning Penn State from postseason bowl games for four years, and capping football scholarships at 20 below the normal limit for four years. Current or incoming football players are free to immediately transfer and compete at other schools.
Penn State President Rodney Erickson said the school accepts the penalties and will move on. Mr. Paterno’s family called the NCAA sanctions a panicked response.
Sandusky, a former Penn State defensive coordinator, was convicted in June of 45 counts related to the sexual abuse. An investigation commissioned by the school found that Mr. Paterno, who died in January, and several other top officials kept quiet about the crimes for years.
The NCAA said the $60 million is equivalent to the annual gross revenue of the football program.
NCAA President Mark Emmert said the “death penalty’ – shutting down the football program – was withheld to prevent punishing those with no role in the scandal. However, football revenues at a school like Penn State subsidize many other athletic programs, including women’s sports, which will suffer despite the lack of any link with Mr. Paterno or Sandusky.
Obviously, the NCAA could not ignore the scandal. Some harsh repercussions were necessary, even though, truth be told, the criminal offenses here fall under the jurisdiction of the state. The fines and other punishments are a justified attempt to change the calculus for other schools that may be tempted to cover up criminal wrongdoing in the future.
Mr. Paterno and Sandusky had become too powerful at the school. Longtime Las Vegas residents are all too familiar with what happens when a college coach is put on a pedestal. Under Jerry Tarkanian, UNLV’s men’s basketball program rose to national prominence and became an inviting target for the NCAA’s compliance investigators. The battles over Mr. Tarkanian’s job ultimately split the community and damaged both the program and the university. It has taken two decades to rebuild both.
If any good is to come out of the Penn State scandal, people at institutions everywhere must put integrity ahead of sports teams and coaching legacies, re-dedicate themselves to the primary missions of their universities and, above all else, remember to do the right thing. Penn State didn’t do any of those things.