Some sins are so unforgivable, the cultures in which they happen so toxic, that a seriously-get-your-attention slap is the only real option. So it goes with Penn State and the NCAA, which on Monday fined the university $60 million in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal, banned the football program from post-season play for four years and reduced the number of scholarships it can extend.
Some sins are so unforgivable, the cultures in which they happen so toxic, that a seriously-get-your-attention slap is the only real option.
So it goes with Penn State and the NCAA, which on Monday fined the university $60 million in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal, banned the football program from post-season play for four years and reduced the number of scholarships it can extend. Current players who wish to transfer and play somewhere else will be allowed to do so without penalty. The NCAA did not shut the football program down - the so-called "death penalty" - but it's a good bet that Penn State will be confined to the Big Ten's cellar for some time to come.
The institution that oversees and regulates college athletics also wiped out all of Penn State's wins going back to 1998 - about the time assistant football coach Sandusky's sexual abuse was becoming known - knocking legendary head coach Joe Paterno off the mountaintop of career coaching wins.
Penn State was guilty of "an unprecedented failure of institutional integrity leading to a culture in which a football program was held in higher esteem than the values of the institution, the values of the NCAA, the values of higher education, and most disturbingly the values of human decency," NCCA President Mark Emmert said in announcing the sanctions. "Football will never again be placed ahead of educating, nurturing and protecting young people."
One has his doubts that Emmert can guarantee that latter promise, but all in all, this is a just sentence, never mind the critics. Some of them have indicated the organization had no jurisdiction here, that Penn State's failings had nothing to do with football. To the contrary, all of the inexcusable and shameful behavior behind the cover-up was about protecting the football program. Others characterized the move as vindictive, that a one-year death penalty would have been more merciful and less crippling to the program long-term. Well, maybe, but current players innocent of any wrongdoing can transfer with amnesty and if you want to send a message that people will hear - that you won't tolerate "the 'sports are king' mindset" that prevails at so many institutions of supposed higher learning - well, a two-by-four across the forehead is the only thing some understand.
This $60 million is a lot of money, but it's not - just one year of average football revenues at the school. Importantly, those dollars will go into an endowment for child sexual abuse prevention programs and victim assistance, which is as it should be.
As for Paterno, well, his enabling and effective obstruction of justice in the Sandusky case, according to the scathing report issued by former FBI Director Louis Freeh, makes this final comeuppance, in conjunction with the removal of his statue at the university, warranted. You can erase the memory of his accomplishments with moves like this but you cannot just wipe clean the scars of the victims, the number of which grew with each passing year of passivity in the face of evil. And frankly this isn't about the late coach anymore, but about sending the most emphatic of signals to other coaches and the administrators who employ them (not the other way around).
Page 2 of 2 - The NCAA was in uncharted waters here. With any luck it will never see anything quite like it again. Ultimately it was not about just the sexual abuse but about the athletic programs that become "too big to fail" and "too big to challenge." In that context the NCAA has crafted a reasonable and balanced conclusion. Let's hope big-time college athletics gets the message.
Journal Star of Peoria, Ill.