NCAA hammers Penn State with ‘near-death penalty’ after Sandusky coverup

The Penn State football program won’t be relevant again until the third decade of the 21st century after it got hit with the most severe long-term punishment in the history of the NCAA.

NCAA President Mark Emmert bypassed the normal bureaucratic snares. No formal investigations, no review process, no appeals. After Penn State’s own internal (yet independent) Freeh Report unveiled widespread knowledge and concealment within the athletic department of Jerry Sandusky’s molestation of children, Emmert had heard all he needed to hear. Action needed to be taken.

Monday, Emmert announced that the Penn State football program would face:

  • A four-year postseason bowl ban (including the Big Ten Championship Game and the playoffs beginning in 2014)
  • A loss of 10 football scholarships a year for four years (Division I schools are normally allowed 85 scholarship players at a time, and may recruit up to 25 scholarship players per year.)
  • The waiving of the Division I transfer restriction for all current players (including the incoming class of 2012), meaning that players can change universities without sitting out one year
  • A $60 million fine, which must be paid from football revenues, to establish an endowment to help victims of child sexual abuse
  • The vacating of every Penn State football victory since 1998 – the year of Sandusky’s first reported molestation on the campus – a total of 111 wins removed from the record books

It’s arguably the most devastating punishment issued by the NCAA since 1987, when it shut down the football program at Southern Methodist University for a season and a half in response to the university using booster money to pay players. SMU football has never been the same, and the sanctions are now known as the “death penalty.”

The only reason I use the qualifier “arguably,” is because some argue the actions against Penn State are even more damaging because of their duration. It’s not important, but I disagree. SMU’s postseason ban was briefer, but the program lost more scholarships, had all kinds of recruiting restrictions, and didn’t even play football for an entire year. No revenues; no player development; no nothing. It’s not the same punishment, but it will set Penn State back at least eight years (the first time the team will be able to field a full team of post-sanction players is 2020) and that’s a heavy blow.

Today, the conversation is not over the merits of the sanctions – the judicial process has found Sandusky guilty and the Freeh Report has found Penn State administrators, including head coach Joe Paterno, complicit. Rather, it is the fairness of the punishment that inspires debate.

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[Clickworthy] How the media may have already doomed Jerry Sandusky

Diogenes would have an easier time finding an honest man than one who honestly presumes that Jerry Sandusky is innocent. In part, after his shockingly incriminating interview with NBC, Sandusky has himself and his lawyer to blame for widespread presumptions of his guilt. But before he ever sat for the interview, the former assistant football coach had been convicted in the press.

With the end of the semester approaching, I haven’t had enough time to blog lately. If I had, this is largely what I would have written. Wendy Kaminer’s piece on The Atlantic today highlights what happens when the world of sports journalism collides with a story far beyond the scope of sport.

I’m not one to demean sports journalists. After all, my out-of-class alter ego is a sports broadcaster. They are great at what they do, and what they do is far more than telling stories about brawny guys smashing into each other or trying to hit a ball with a stick.

But the Jerry Sandusky story is not what sports journalists do. When the narrative moves off the football field and into the courtroom; when people charged with, but not convicted of, crimes await their fair trial… sports journalists aren’t the best to preserve due process.

Bob Costas would be the exception. His phone interview with Sandusky – a remarkably ill-advised move by the former Penn State Defensive Coordinator – was as uncomfortable as it gets. And, let’s face it, Sandusky did not portray himself in a good light at all. Still, Costas never broke. He never made it sound as if Sandusky was already guilty; his facial expressions didn’t even hint at condemnation or disbelief.

His colleagues have not performed as admirably, which Kaminer highlights in the article. I listen to the Dan Patrick radio show most days at work. Patrick, an Emmy-award-winning sports journalist who is as careful and slow to judgment as they come, has called Sandusky every name in the book, and suggests his guilt almost every hour. Patrick had Costas on his show the day after the phone interview, desiring to know how Costas really felt about Sandusky. Costas responded that he “Probably shouldn’t say. It’s a story I, and perhaps you, will be covering in an ongoing way.”

Patrick, like so many other people – never mind journalists – are emotionally impacted by this story. The accusations are graphic and sickening. The kinds of things that cause otherwise mild-mannered men to respond viscerally. We want Sandusky to pay. Except he hasn’t gone to trial. For all we know, he could be exonerated. Not that anyone would notice…

We have a special hate toward those who sexually abuse children, as we should. But we cannot go all Nancy Grace Mode and convict them in the press. What newspaper columns and talk radio shows and television programs around the country have done in the past week violate journalistic integrity and responsibility. Sandusky might turn out to be as guilty as the world thinks he is. But in our democracy, judge and jury convict, not some yahoo with a hot microphone and a hot temper.