By GREG STODA
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The NCAA did its job.
If the often-recalcitrant organization didn’t ruin the once-hallowed football program at Penn State with heavy sanctions announced Monday, it severely disabled it.
The effects of the penalties almost certainly will be felt far beyond the time frame set forth by the ruling. And that feels right.
The NCAA established a strict standard for itself in dealing with a horrific scandal. It involved former Nittany Lions assistant coach Jerry Sandusky’s prolonged sexual abuse of boys and the coverup of those heinous crimes by several university officials and, most notably, by the late and formerly iconic head coach Joe Paterno.
According to NCAA President Mark Emmert, the task was “to impose sanctions that reflect the magnitude of these terrible acts.” He added that “our goal is not to be just punitive, but to make sure the university establishes a culture and a daily mind-set in which football will never again be placed ahead of educating, nurturing and protecting young people.”
It’s an admirable goal, and should be viewed as an attainable one. If reformation isn’t forthcoming, it will only serve to worsen the sadness and madness of what happened at Penn State.
The message from the NCAA is clear enough to leave no room for misinterpretation in Happy Valley, where former President Graham Spanier has been fired and former Vice President Gary Schultz and former Athletic Director Tim Curley face trial on perjury charges. A statue of Paterno outside Beaver Stadium has been taken down.
But is the message loud enough for college football’s behemoths everywhere to hear? Is it, more importantly, loud enough for them to heed the obvious warning: A lack of institutional control — even on matters pertaining strictly to football rather than on anything reaching the scope of the Penn State abominations — no longer will be tolerated.
The unconscionable failings by Paterno and university officials in the wake of having learned of Sandusky’s despicable predatory nature offer the NCAA an inarguable opportunity to alter the power structure behind the scenes of big-time and big-business college football.
The NCAA’s decision is not, as the Paterno family has claimed, a “panicked response” to an appalling circumstance. Already, though, there have been critics in agreement calling the sanctions a rush to (unfair) judgment by the NCAA, which cited no actual rulebook violations. What an absurdity. The vile physical violations perpetrated by the now-imprisoned Sandusky on children are the only things that count in this matter, which is an issue of humanity. That’s not enough for rulebook-thumpers?
The situation was unprecedented; the NCAA’s response to it was as well. Rightfully so. Indeed, there are Penn State athletes who will bear the burden of the penalties. They are innocents, but not victims. We all know who the victims are.
“No price the NCAA can levy will repair the grievous damage inflicted by Jerry Sandusky on his victims,” Emmert said.
— A $60 million fine for the creation of a foundation dedicated to the prevention of sexual abuse.
— A four-year bowl ban.
— A five-year probation.
— The loss of 10 scholarships across each of the next four years.
— Any incoming or current football player will be allowed to transfer with immediate eligibility to play.
— The vacating of all victories between 1998 and 2011, which thereby erases Paterno’s standing as the game’s winningest major-college coach.
The Big Ten, which is Penn State’s conference home, agreed with the NCAA, by the way, and added its own penalties. In a news release, the conference cited Penn State’s failings “morally, ethically and potentially criminally.”
And that feels right, too.