Reprieve

The NCAA came down hard on the Penn State football program in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky conviction and the Freeh Report. The punishments include loss of scholarships, a four-year postseason ban, five years of probation, the vacating of 14 seasons worth of wins, and a $60 million fine. It was harsh, but could have gone further. The university avoided the dreaded death penalty, the dismantling of the program itself, for one or multiple seasons. There will be football in Happy Valley this year. It just won’t be very competitive.

Penn State got lucky. The death penalty would have been an apt and just punishment for the gross misconduct that went on in the football program. The Sandusky investigations and trial, along with the Freeh Report, made clear that there was a conspiracy at the university to conceal child rape and allow the perpetrator to continue to walk free and prey on others. And this was allowed because the powers that be decided the reputation of the football program, and the money it brought to the university and to certain individuals, was more important than exposing a monster in their midst. Football was more important than preventing the rape of children. It is this type of twisted mentality that has no place in human affairs, and it boggles the mind that the football program would be allowed to continue without a total reboot.

Instead, the NCAA has decided to hit the university in the pocketbook. The fine amounts to about one year’s worth of football revenue, and the postseason ban will cost the school any bowl money. But the institution remains. The poisonous place where such foul misdeeds were committed.

Only by stopping, suspending, and starting the program over from scratch can there truly be a break from the regime of the past, regardless of all the new faces in charge.

Football has become so powerful at large universities, with so much money at stake, that one has to wonder how other programs would have behaved had Jerry Sandusky gone through their locker rooms instead of Penn State’s.

From coach Joe Paterno to university president Graham Spanier, to AD Tim Cruley and school VP Gary Schultz, to anyone else who had knowledge of Sandusky’s activities or willfully turned a blind eye, there is probably not a truly horrible person among them. But it is not uncommon for good people to act in horrible ways in the service of an institution. It happens in corporations, governments, and churches. Places like these change a person’s conception of morality, empathy, and accountability. In this, the football program itself is every bit as much to blame for the cover-up as the people in charge. It therefore becomes important for the football program at Penn State to go away for awhile, to give the university the proper amount of time to reassess its priorities, and also to put together a plan so that when the games resume, nothing like a Jerry Sandusky or a cover-up can happen again, nor could there ever again be a quasi-independent entity on campus with such enormous power.