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PSU Sanctions: Did NCAA Overreact?

I heard the best way to describe Penn State’s sanctions earlier today:

The late Joe Paterno

“They received the walking death penalty,” said Michael Lombardi of NFL Network.

Pretty much sums it up, huh?

There’s no question that even a two-season “death penalty” would have been preferred to what Penn State was levied with by the NCAA. The Nittany Lions are ineligible for postseason play for four seasons, they’re docked 20 scholarships per year for the next four years, they’ll be fined $60 million (and this is before all the civil suits that are coming down the pike), all wins from 1998-2011 have been vacated, their current players can transfer anywhere in the country and be eligible to play immediately … and they have to move their campus to Beirut. (All right, joking on that last one.)

Hey, I have to commend the NCAA here. Just like when former Baylor basketball head coach Dave Bliss covered up a murder, the NCAA hammered the Bears’ hoops program with heavy sanctions.

Oh wait, they didn’t do that. The NCAA felt getting involved with the cover-up of a murder was out of its jurisdiction. Let that marinate for a moment.

So, this is another example of the NCAA making up the rules as they go along.

To be clear, the NCAA needed to do something to Penn State. However, they also “needed to do something” in the Baylor case (and the Cam Newton case, although that’s completely different from criminal acts being committed) and they sat on their hands.

Also, Penn State’s “interim” president Rodney Erickson (that’s what I’m calling him because he clearly doesn’t have the chops for the job, although he’s obviously an upgrade over future-prisoner Graham Spanier) appears to be about as spineless as they come. Penn State fans are upset with him and rightfully so. Why not wait and go in front of the NCAA Committee on Infractions? There is no way NCAA president/Newt Gingrich-look-alike Mark Emmert would have levied the sanctions against Penn State without the school signing off on them. In fact, there have been published reports that Emmert and Erickson worked together in coming up with these penalties. (As an aside, in case you weren't aware, comparing someone to the appearance of Gingrich is the polar opposite of a compliment.)

I just feel this is too harsh of a punishment for Penn State’s football program. I’m glad the wretched piece of human scum known as Jerry Sandusky is going to rot and die in prison. I’m glad Spanier (who hasn’t even been charged yet, but soon will), Tim Curley and Gary Schultz will be learning what “tossed salad” means in jail lingo. I’m glad the Joe Paterno statue came down, even though it meant I lost a $50 Outback Steakhouse gift card bet. (I thought all along the statue should come down, I just thought the legions of JoePa supporters would never let it happen.)

However, I think there was a better solution here. I like the idea of money going to programs that assist and prevent child abuse victims. That was a must. The NCAA got that one exactly right. (Although a fool could have figured out that one.)

But the scholarship reductions and postseason ban is too harsh. Erickson should have either said “Just give us the death penalty for two years” or “I’ll see you in Indy” over taking that “deal.”

I’m on the fence regarding Paterno’s wins being wiped away for the final 14 seasons of his career. I definitely see both sides of the issue there.

One argument you will not see me make in this space is “It’s unfair to punish the current players and coaches for stuff they had nothing to do with.” Uh, that’s how it works in the NCAA. Was anyone crying about USC (other than Trojan fans) not being bowl eligible the last two years because of Reggie Bush’s transactions? Is anyone outside of Buckeye Nation feeling sorry for the Buckeyes that they are ineligible for postseason play this season? Exactly.

Another horrible argument I hear from people is this: “Does penalizing the current players/coaches mean that the victims get un-raped?”

Wow, that’s as dense as one could get. Using that rationale, we shouldn’t imprison murderers because there’s no way to bring the deceased back to life.

Sympathetic Figure?

Something else to keep in mind here: Due to the heavy sanctions, the NCAA will eventually make Penn State somewhat of a “sympathetic figure” across college football. That seems absurd to say now, but you watch. As time passes, people will feel sorry for the players and coaches at Penn State who had nothing to do with the worst scandal in American sports history. As soon as the postseason ban is up, many fans across the nation will be hoping Penn State finds its way into a bowl. There will be “feel good” stories about the quarterback (and other players) that stuck around during the tough times.

Penn State football is now “the underdog.” The majority of fans across the country will want to see the Nittany Lions keep their head above water and one day return to national prominence. I don’t think turning PSU football into a sympathetic figure – which is exactly what will happen in the future – was a wise move here.

So, in closing, the NCAA needed to act and they did. But Emmert went too far and Erickson erred in not standing up for his school better.

“Walking death penalty.”

Truer words have never been spoken.

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