For Penn State, a Fate Worse Than Death

For Penn State, a Fate Worse Than Death

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JoePa’s legacy receives an official beating.

Penn State faithful need not have worried about its football program receiving the NCAA equivalent of a death penalty. On Monday it was learned that Penn State football will live on, but the school is being penalized with a $60 million fine and all wins from 1998 through 2011 have been vacated. The toughest pill to swallow may be the loss of college scholarships with the NCAA ordering Penn State to reduce 10 initial and 20 total scholarships annually over the next four years. Penn State will also be forbidden from playing in a bowl game through the 2015 season.

PR Decision

Over the past weekend, rumors about the pending NCAA penalties swirled with ESPN reporting that the death penalty was off the table. That news coincided with the Sunday morning removal of Joe Paterno’s statue, a Beaver Stadium fixture that was installed in November 2001. The university decided that the statue needed to be placed in storage as a Louis Freeh report revealed damning evidence that the legendary coach disregarded the welfare of children by not reporting his assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky, to the police. Instead, Sandusky was retired, but his proclivity for attacking young boys continued.

The NCAA penalties are considered unprecedented and will likely have an effect that is worse than the so-called death penalty. The only instance where a football program was told to sit out a season was in 1987 at Southern Methodist University. Although the school was permitted to return to play the following year, it couldn’t field a complete team and canceled its 1988 season. When football did return to SMU, it took 20 years before it could field a bowl-caliber team. Likely, the impact on Penn State will extend well through the rest of this decade, quite possibly keeping the school from reaching any bowl game for many years beyond the end of the NCAA penalties.

Football athletes at Penn State must now decide to stay with the penalized program or move on. To aid students wishing to transfer, the NCAA is providing immediate relief to expedite their move to a new school, even in time for the new academic year which starts this fall.

Transfer Options

Specifically, the NCAA has promised:

  • Transferred football players will not have to sit out for a year. Typically, when a student-athlete transfers to another school, the NCAA requires the student to wait one year before playing. As long as the student meets all other NCAA requirements, he can play this fall.
  • Students that signed a National Letter of Intent with Penn State are now released from that requirement. An NLI obligates a student to attend a particular school, an essential move to receive student aid or in this case an athletic scholarship.
  • Football players are immediately eligible to explore transfer options and can inform Penn State of their interest. If another school is interested in a prospective player, that school will notify Penn State of its intention to discuss same with him. Penn State may not block either the student or another school from meeting as long as the proper procedures are taken.
  • The NCAA is also relaxing various visitation rules. To expedite the move of student-athletes from Penn State to other schools, students will be allowed to make on-campus visits throughout the coming athletic year. The NCAA limits the number of official and unofficial visits, but potential transferring students can appeal to the association for a personal waiver.

Scholarship Limits

For other schools, accepting Penn State football players can immediately change that program’s outlook for the coming football season. The NCAA may waive scholarship limits for transferring students, effectively lifting the cap on 25 new scholarships per year and 85 scholarships in total. However, such schools will have to reduce their scholarship count by one for the following academic year for each new student-athlete.

Action and Reaction

The NCAA’s swift decision to punish Penn State is also unprecedented. Typically, the association conducts its own hearings, going through its infractions committee before giving a school time to reply to its findings. It can take a full year for the NCAA to act, but in this case the Louis Freeh report was all the evidence needed. Immediately following the NCAA’s decree, Penn State Rodney Erickson said that the university “accepts the penalties and corrective actions announced today by the NCAA,” and encouraged the university community to move forward while acknowledging that the scandal “altered the lives of innocent children.”

Paterno’s legacy has forever been tarnished and the late coach has also had 111 victories removed from his record. Once the all-time winningest coach in major college football with 409 victories, Paterno is now credited with just 298 wins. That’s a small loss compared to the devastation some children suffered when JoePa put football ahead of their personal welfare.

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