Finality doesn’t exist in circumstances where child rape casts a shadow. It remains steadfast even when the sun sets, hovering like the monster who caused it, lurking. Penn State may have reached the nadir in this Jerry Sandusky scandal and the cover-up that followed but there’s no pinnacle ahead. National titles might return to State College, far, far into the future but a school, region and culture that deified Joe Paterno only to see him castigated by the rest of the country at the end of his life has been permanently tainted.
So as NCAA President Mark Emmert announced the penalties — 4-year postseason and bowl ban, 5-year probation, 20 scholarship losses per year for 4 years and 10 of those coming annually, wins vacated from 1998-2011, any player eligible may transfer and become immediately eligibility at his new school, $60 million fine, to be given to an “endowment for external programs preventing child sexual abuse or assisting”— on the Nittany Lions, an unprecedented show of power from college athletics’ governing body, the sanctions don’t represent a finishing blow. The Penn State football program will survive. Big Ten contention might sit out the next decade though Bill O’Brien proved before the restrictions were assessed that he was a capable recruiter.
There’s no happy ending in Happy Valley.
For years, pundits and fans alike have gnashed at the NCAA for their lack of teeth. Punishments took too long. They were too weak. Schools laughed at a slap on the wrist when on-field success trumped misgivings of impropriety. Now, in a defining moment for the organization, the decision to pop Penn State is being hailed as an overstep. An extraordinary situation required an expedited process.
Penn State simply wants their name out of the news. It accepted the sanctions and won’t appeal because what kind of entity fights to save football when it failed to prevent child sex abuse?
Enlivened and approved by the NCAA Board of Directors, Emmert used the Freeh Report as the model for investigations and hearings that could take place months from now. He figured, why wait? Paid for by the Nittany Lions, the report led by a former FBI Director included the thoroughness the NCAA required and bypassed the bureaucracy.
The President found his legal language in the NCAA Constitution which requires integrity, ethical conduct and control over the athletic department from players, coaches and those responsible and related to overseeing intercollegiate athletics. A disgraced ex-President (Graham Spanier) fits, an ousted athletic director (Tim Curley) applies and a late head coach who wasn’t the beacon of good we all thought (Paterno) certainly qualifies.
A flurry of questions face the new Nittany Lions administration as they traverse a trail Mark Emmert blazed himself.
Will the school continue competing in football during the bowl ban?
There’s been no indication Penn State plans to sit out.
Will the 2013 recruiting class defect en masse?
Not only does Bill O’Brien have to recruit with limited scholarships for the foreseeable future, he also must recruit his own players already on campus as they may transfer and be eligible tomorrow at their destination school.
Will the fines, coupled with the civil suit settlements financially cripple a school with a $1.8 million endowment?
This seems doubtful, though the school will certainly feel a heavy burden in the accounting department.
The embarrassment of the scandal going public fades a little more each day. The admission that Penn State, an alma mater for hundreds of thousands allowed it to happen twists the knife a little harder in plenty of Nittany Lions hearts. But there’s no closure here. No moving on completely. The motto in State College “We Are Penn State” means something different than it did before any of us ever knew Jerry Sandusky was more than a defensive coordinator. Monday’s punishment is the next step in healing though it’s not the conclusion. Will that ever arrive? Perhaps not, perhaps it’s sitting behind bars in Centre County, laying in a casket in Spring Creek Presbyterian Cemetery and in the thoughts of those former Penn State administrators waiting on perjury charges. They are Penn State too, as much as the Nittany Lion faithful wish they weren’t.