The Penn State sanctions and collateral damage

After it was discovered the Joe Paterno had taken a page out of the Vatican’s playbook (Paterno was Catholic, after all) and had valued the reputation of his football program over protecting prepubescent boys from rape, the NCAA deliberated and has now handed down their sanctions on Penn State for Paterno’s inaction.  They aren’t fucking around.

  • A four-year postseason ban.
  • The loss of twenty scholarships during each of those years.
  • Penn State players are free to leave if they want (and most of them, I suspect, I will do so).
  • They will be stripped of all wins dating back to 1998 (which means Paterno is no longer the winningest coach in history – by a long shot).
  • The school must pay a sixty-million dollar fine.

They are also leaving the door open to handing out further sanctions to individuals.  Good.  These are far and away the most severe penalties the NCAA has ever dished out.  It will take the program 15-20 years to recover.  And yet the punishment falls infinitely short of fitting the crime.

Sadly, football at schools like Penn State are very much tied to academics.  At these institutions you can watch the enrollment numbers fluctuate with the success of the football/basketball teams.  So it becomes very difficult to punish the football team and the administrators who enabled Paterno without punishing the employees and students at the university for something they had no hand in.  At some point you do have to stop punishing them, even if it means those responsible are getting off the hook way too light.

I do like how the university is responding.  They fully accepted the NCAA’s sanctions.  University president Rodney Erickson’s statement was very classy.  He has even said the NCAA was generous.  He’s right.  They also tore down the statue of Paterno despite displeasure from the fans/community.  They did it expediently and were right to do so.

The “death penalty” from the NCAA is to shut a program down for a year.  This was certainly on the table.  The NCAA didn’t do that because they didn’t wish to punish the scholarship athletes for the failures of administration and coaches.  Erickson thanked the NCAA for that and I think they made the right call.

The take home lesson is simple: colleges exist for the purpose of education.  I like college sports as much as the next guy, but the sports should never, ever, ever even come close to being as big an issue as academics.  That we’ve gotten to this point is incredibly sad, and I wish the NCAA would also take this as an impetus to start finding ways to diminish athletics from the overall picture of universities.

Then you can punish people like Paterno without also punishing the students for his crimes.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • Alverant

    I thought they were just banned from bowl games, not from football alltogether. The latter would be most appropiate. I should also point out that the students supported Paterno and rioted when the allagations first came out.

    • eric

      I think that’s what’s meant by the first bullet. “Postseason ban” = no bowl games, but regular season games are still okay.

    • HeathenJuan

      The rioting happened because of the way the firing of Paterno was handled. Sure, now we know how deep he was involved but when thing were first unraveling, the public had no knowledge about this. When the students find out that the coach that they have grown to admire and love gets fired by a phone call, they felt they needed to show the university that it was the wrong way to go about that specific situation. And a full ban of the season would hurt the players that had nothing to do with this, may be going to school because of an athletic scholarship and that want to stay in the school. The current punishment will be enough that the program will not be a major force in college football for a long time.

      • Azkyroth, Former Growing Toaster Oven

        That’s excessively charitable, to put it mildly.

  • slc1
    • Corvus illustris

      The post-mortem sanctions against Paterno kind of bother me–he can neither contritely accept them nor attempt to rebut them. That said, I don’t think the Big Ten did enough: they should have chucked Penn State out, saying that there was a level of sleaze that they were unwilling to tolerate. Big Ten could still play Penn State teams out of conference. But money talks …

      • jkmiami89

        Chucking them out of the Big 10 would hurt their other sports programs that were not at all involved with the scandals, and would hurt all of the programs currently in the Big 10. Athletic schedules are fleshed out way in advance, and kicking a team out would put an undue financial burden on other Big 10 programs.

      • Azkyroth, Former Growing Toaster Oven

        That would have been a good thing for him to have thought of.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    Did anyone whack the statue with a shoe as it came down?

    • Lurker111


  • Art Vandelay

    Are they tearing down all those statues in the Vatican next or does nobody still give a shit about that?

    • Corvus illustris

      The Paterno statue was typical USAmerican kitsch (look at the statues appended to the Vietnam Wall) but some of the stuff in the Vatican is real art, in spite of the subjects. Just have the whole Vatican site declared an international cultural monument, or something. No payoffs to Joe the Rat, of course.

  • slc1

    It should also be noted that all Penn State victories since 1998 were forfeited, so Joe the Schmo is no longer the winningest college football coach in history.

    • Frankzzz

      * Will record books still list him but with an asterisk?

  • anteprepro

    I like college sports as much as the next guy, but the sports should never, ever, ever even come close to being as big an issue as academics.

    Let alone be considered more important of an issue than child rape. I think that’s the biggest fuck up of priorities, no?

  • McNihil

    I’m not sure where else to ask this and the reason I am asking this here is because this post has the word “Catholic” in it so I figure it’s as good a place as any.

    Whatever happened to that exchange with Leah Libresco that was supposed to happen roughly 2 weeks after her conversion? It’s been about a month now since the announcement. Has she replied yet but you haven’t gotten around to posting the reply? Is she stumped by your preliminary questions? Has she just been silent and you haven’t heard from her yet? Sorry to be impatient but to me personally, these kinds of conversations with religious people are the most interesting part of your blog (I read every entry, though, just to be clear) so I am itching for updates on that whole situation!

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/wwjtd JT Eberhard

      I have pinged her twice to no avail. She has set up a google doc where she said she would set about answering my preliminary questions, but she has not done so. :/

      • McNihil

        How vexing. If the situation was the other way round, a simple minded Christian would probably declare victory at this point and assume that she has no good answers to your questions and gloat over her dumbfounded silence. But I am not like that. Not at all. Not jumping to any conclusions with regard to her inability to answer. Not enjoying her dumbfounded silence whatsoever. Nope, not me, siree. I’ll just wait patiently for her response with bulletproof points that demonstrate directly and unequivocally that the Catholic flavor of the Christian god and all his attributes and actions are a matter of necessary truth.

  • http://florilegia.wordpress.com Ibis3, member of the Oppressed Sisterhood fanclub

    This seems like a weird, misplaced response to me. First, what purpose does it serve to strip wins? I mean, those players did actually win those games (supposedly in a fair manner). How is it punishment to the guilty parties to unleash vengeance on innocent bystanders* (in this case those players)? Especially given that since Paterno himself is dead, there’s not even a side benefit of shaming him? How does it do anything for the victims or prevent similar coverups in the future? How does it serve anyone to prevent other kids from getting an education by dropping scholarships?

    Taking the statue of Paterno down ought to have happened when the information about the coverup first came to light. I can definitely get behind the fine–it’s a punishment to the school for valuing the athletics programme and the school’s reputation above the safety of children–and I like that it’s going to be put into a fund for child sexual abuse prevention or victim support.

    *In calling the players innocent bystanders, I do not for a moment wish to diminish any of the horror that the rape victims suffered.

    • Nentuaby

      The stripped wins are, like the fine, a punishment to the institution itself. In a sense they’re another fine paid in prestige (and hence long-run fund raising power) instead of dollars. For a major university, it’s likely to be the one that’s more sorely felt, in the long run.

    • eric

      First, what purpose does it serve to strip wins?

      I’m guessing it will impact alumni support and donations if Penn can no longer mention their recent record or wins in their promotionl materials. Yes, it potentially does hurt players from the last 12 years or so, but (a) there is probably no punishment that wont have collatoral damage, and (b) the football program alumni that this specific punishment affects have hopefully either been recruited into the NFL or gone on to other jobs by now. Either way, hopefully they are not relying on their Penn State football win record for employment.

      How does it do anything for the victims or prevent similar coverups in the future?

      I expect that the reasoning is:
      -To other NCAA football program staff: your football program will get no promotional value or credit for any of the years you covered up the crime(s).
      -To NCAA coaches: you will also get no career credit for any of those years.
      -To senior Uni officials: your school will suffer out-year scholarship and postseason penalities that will hurt the school’s revenue stream and prestige.

      How does it serve anyone to prevent other kids from getting an education by dropping scholarships?

      I’m not sure of the reasoning for this one, but my reading of the first two bullets is that the 20 scholarship thing applies to the next four future years, not to scholarships already given out. I.e., no student currently in the program will have their scholarship taken away. I could be wrong about that though.

      • http://freethoughtblogs.com/wwjtd JT Eberhard

        You’re not wrong. All running scholarships will be honored.

        • Frankzzz

          Not only that, but they said any current players with scholarships could quit the team and still keep the scholarship so they can still finish school.

          • petejohn

            Or leave and go to another university w/o sitting out a year of play.

      • Nathaniel Frein

        As I’m a layperson, I was wondering if you could clarify another point on the scholarships:

        My assumption was that these scholarships are not provided by Penn State, but the NCAA itself, otherwise it wouldn’t seem that the NCAA would have any power TO strip the scholarships in the first place. That said, if they’re taking those scholarships from Penn, would those scholarships be available to other schools?

        If that’s the case, then it seems to me to be a perfectly reasonable response (especially since they are honoring the current scholarships).

        • jkmiami89

          The scholarships are provided by the schools.
          Each school has a scholarship cap- they can have no more than 85 scholarship football players on their roster. Limiting scholarships restricts this to 65 scholarship players. No one loses their scholarship-they just can’t have as many scholarship players.

        • Mark Erickson

          Scholarships are forgone tuition and board for the university. The NCAA regulates when coaches can crap, and they can because they sanction all big time college athletics. No NCAA, no games for you (small exception for NAIA and club sports).

        • Frankzzz

          It’s only the maximum number of football scholarships they were allowed to give out each year, and the total number of football scholarship players they can have at one time, that is being lowered.

  • Ashley F. Miller

    Is the NCAA going to help facilitate players who want to leave? They’re allowed, sure, but that is often easier said than done.

    • jkmiami89

      Probably not, but for the players that have a future playing professional football it will be no trouble for them to reach out to another institution (though probably after a season)in order to play. If they have no future football, they will have their scholarships honored and can finish off their careers at Penn State, a very good academic institution, and still get a good education regardless of the quality of the football they are playing.

      • Mark Erickson

        You’re assuming too much that all Penn State football players get a good education. Good connections, yes, but I wouldn’t hire them for their critical thinking skills.

        • slc1

          Actually, one of the things that Mr. Paterno insisted on was that his players receive a good education. I recall a panel discussion a couple of decades ago where he was a panelist. The issue of graduation rates came up and Paterno opined that that was only half the story. The other half was what they were majoring in.

    • R Johnston

      Tranfers from Penn State will be able to play immediately for their new schools rather than having to wait the usual year.

  • Pierce R. Butler

    Does this mean that a team which lost to Penn State during that interval will be able to claim wins for those games?

    The stats for those 14 years are going to be swamped with revisions & footnotes…

    • ButchKitties

      If those teams can claim wins, then IU’s win record for that period just doubled.

      • jkmiami89

        Wins are vacated: the losses still count for those they played against, but no one gets credit for the wins.

    • Frankzzz

      The wins were vacated, or just removed completely, but they weren’t forfeited, so not giving the other team a win.

  • John Kruger

    The NCAA sent a clear message that the ends do not justify the means. If a school is going to justify harboring child rape to help win football games, it makes sense to take football away from such a school. I think they might have even gone further, since the collateral damage argument does not hold much sway with me. People that need to earn paychecks to support their families do not get mitigated jail time when convicted. Schools need to know that they will be held accountable for the actions of the people they put in charge. That an educational institution relies so heavily on football for support is a sad state of affairs in any event. Penn State can reap what it has sown.

  • plutosdad

    I think this is appropriate given the widespread problems. I feel sorry for student athletes, but having a few friends that had full rides to division IA schools, I’m sure the kids with scholarships to division I schools will not have a hard time finding new homes. Heck a lot of incoming freshmen already changed what school they are going to last fall.

    Now the NCAA needs to investigate Notre Dame and the allegations of date rape over and over that get quashed by the local police. (though I’m sure that happens at all top schools)

    I feel more angry at the punishment they gave Ohio State, when it was only a few kids, and all they did was sell some paraphernalia and get summer jobs. That is nothing at all like Cam Newton’s dad mysteriously getting a new truck when Cam decided to go Auburn, but nothing to see there! Move along.

  • JR

    So when are we going to strip privileges from the catholic church for all the child rape that’s been going on there?

    • anteprepro

      They’ve already paid off some of the victims and their families and had some of the culprits sent off to be dealt with non-church authorities, after years of hiding them from same authorities. Isn’t that punishment enough?

      (Remember: Punishing churches as harshly as you would any similar institution is actually PERSECUTION. Just ask any fundie.)

  • Tooter

    I’m sitting across from Penn State right now. It’s business as usual here.

  • Taz

    The $60 million fine will be used to establish a program for the detection and prevention of child abuse.

    Stripping the wins was a move aimed directly at Paterno. The NCAA doesn’t want his name on the top of the record books.

    I like that they didn’t ban regular season games. In a town like State College, a lot of small businesses would have been devastated by the loss of the football crowd.