First reaction to the massive sanctions handed down Monday morning by NCAA president Mark Emmert on the Penn State saga? Amazing. Amazing not only in the breadth of the sanctions — a $60 million fine, four-year bowl ban and a significant scholarship hit — but also in the speed with which Emmert acted. We’ve grown accustomed to long, drawn-out NCAA investigations (USC, Oregon), and this one, by comparison, went with the speed of light. It was only in November that the Jerry Sandusky child-abuse revelations broke, and here we are, less than nine months later, and the Nittany Lions have been taken to the woodshed by Emmert.
— This is second only to the SMU death-penalty sanction of the mid-80s in its severity and sweeping nature. It could be more like a long, painful illness for Penn State.
— Good for Emmert for imposing the fine, intended for child-abuse prevention and program assistance. It’s a way of making the punishment fit the crime.
— I don’t like the four-year bowl ban, simply because it’s piling hardship on innocent people, which was — in much greater, incomparable form — what happened to cause this mess. If you’re, say, a sophomore at Penn State, you were six or seven when the first known Sandusky abuse was committed. He was long gone from the staff by the time you enrolled, and you have nothing to do with this. Nor was there any competitive advantage gained in Sandusky’s atrocities. But the NCAA has never managed to limit penalties to the guilty, and no doubt the notion of Penn State celebrating a season by going to a bowl game didn’t fly with Emmert.
— The whole affair has been repeatedly called a football problem, and I’m not in accord with that pat an answer. It was a university problem. Yes, it sprouted from football, from Paterno’s incredibly long tenure at Penn State. But he became bigger than football, bigger than anybody at Penn State. He was an icon larger than the program, giving millions to the school library. He was Penn State. Competitively, it’s not as though Penn State was this colossus program in recent years, akin to USC or Alabama. I tried to come up with a Pac-12 program that might be the competitive mirror of Penn State in, say, the last decade, and this was my conclusion — Utah. It’s a program that had a couple of BCS-bowl seasons, and, around that, solid competitiveness. But Penn State is no better than the fourth-most dominant program in the Big Ten, behind Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin. And maybe Iowa. And as such, Penn State wasn’t some rogue program with out-of-control competitive priorities. But then came the horrible secret harbored by its top university officials, and the protection of Paterno.
— There’s no room for humor in any of this, but if there is, it’s almost comical that Paterno was stripped of his victories since 1998, tilting the Division 1 record back to former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden. They jousted back and forth through the past decade of their work, and the title seemed more important to Bowden than Paterno. Now Bowden gets the honor back, and it looks like this time, it’s permanent.