The ruling was harsh, but, for the most part, fair. There was a fear that NCAA president Mark Emmert, in a rush to judgment, would “kill’’ the Penn State football program for an undetermined amount of time. He didn’t do that, but he certainly did more than slap the Nittany Lions’ wrists.
In a ruling that will set Penn State football back a decade, Emmert ruled that the Nittany Lions would be fined $60 million, would be banned from postseason play for four years and in that same span lose 40 scholarships, 10 a year.
Those penalties, of course, won’t silence the nightmares that still haunt the young and not-so-young victims of Jerry Sandusky’s sex abuse or erase the knowledge that top Penn State officials, including coach Joe Paterno, knew about Sandusky’s crimes and did nothing to stop him.
And, sadly, the people who are being punished for those crimes are innocent of any wrongdoing. In this case, that mainly means the kids who signed to play with the Lions because of Paterno’s success as a coach and his reputation as a man. Unfortunately, there was no way to avoid that because that’s the way it always works out. Usually it’s a coach who commits recruiting violations and then skips town for another million-dollar job before those violations are discovered. And it’s the school and the current coaches and players that pay the penalty, not the coach who broke the rules.
That’s why a key element of Emmert’s ruling is allowing Penn State players to transfer to another school and not have to sit out a year, which is the normal procedure. Some players might not have other options, but a kid that can play for Penn State can usually play for anybody. At least those kids won’t be trapped if they want to leave a team that won’t play in a bowl game, much less play for a national championship. It’s not a perfect solution, but at least they have options. The line starts to the left…
However, there is one part of the punishment meted out by Emmert that is not only overly harsh, but also makes no sense. For some reason, Emmert also ruled that Penn State must forfeit all of its victories – 111 of them – from 1998-2011.
We’re certainly not legal experts, but how can he erase those victories is beyond us, because Penn State didn’t do anything wrong from a competitive standpoint. Certainly Penn State’s sins are far worse than any mere recruiting or point-shaving scandal, but what happened behind closed locker room doors had no effect on what happened on the football field. Penn State didn’t get any kind of competitive edge, so it seems ridiculous to take away victories earned by people who didn’t do anything wrong, namely the hundreds of players who wore the Nittany Lions’ uniform in those now-lost seasons.
At least those players know the truth. They know they worked hard and played fair and won a lot of games and no ruling can change that. And now Penn State faces a daunting challenge as it starts to rebuild its football program and, more importantly, its reputation.
Contact Kevin Noonan at firstname.lastname@example.org.