The NCAA's toolbox of penalties seems completely inadequate to deal with what former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky did and how head coach Joe Paterno and the administration at Penn State looked the other way. While the NCAA's penalties against the program, announced earlier this week, are harsh and potentially devastating to the program, they are not far from the four-year postseason ban imposed on the University of Indiana in 1960 for recruiting violations.
The sexual abuse of young boys, and the official decision to sweep evidence of those crimes under the rug with full understanding that such abuses were likely to continue, is so far removed from recruiting violations that it seems wrong to equate the two in any way.
In punishing Penn State, the NCAA clearly wanted to send a message to the rest of the collegiate athletic world that sexual abuses would not be tolerated. It wanted, as NCAA President Mark Emmert said, to change a destructive culture that seems to have taken hold of the land. "One of the grave damages stemming from our love of sports is that the sports themselves can become too big to fail, indeed too big to even challenge," he said. "The result can be an erosion of academic values that are replaced by the value of hero worship and winning at all costs."
There could be no stronger way to arrest this erosion than to suspend Penn State's football program entirely for a period of time. As it is, the sanctions announced Monday will render that program so weak and noncompetitive that the football team is likely to generate little interest and attract few highly regarded recruits. And yet it will continue to play, leaving fans with the hope that the team can return to prominence once the sanctions have passed. Football players will still walk the campus. People will still cheer. The culture of winning at all costs will be bruised, but the so-called "death penalty" would offer the best chance to crush it as the school would be forced to rebuild after a time from the very beginning.
Make no mistake, the NCAA penalties imposed on Penn State are severe. They include $60 million in fines, ineligibility for postseason play for four years, a cap of scholarships that is 20 below the normal limit for four years and five years of probation. The NCAA also effectively released all Penn State football players from obligations to the school, allowing them to transfer elsewhere if they wish.
And yet, these are administrative penalties that allow the school to continue pursuing touchdowns each weekend in the fall. To the victims of Sandusky's vile perversions and of a legendary coach and a school administration that reportedly knew what was happening and refused to act, it must be hard to see the penalties as even remotely adequate, just as it will be hard for many in the nation to watch what is left of Penn State's football team compete without thinking of what happened.
We trust that the rest of college football has gotten the message. Crimes must be reported to proper authorities immediately. We're also fairly certain Penn State's football program won't recover its prominence for many years, if ever. But sometimes what has happened at a place is so horrendous that the best thing to do is to tear the place down and start over. It's difficult to see what is gained by falling short of that penalty.