It’s time to redefine the NCAA's version of The Death Penalty. What happened to SMU in 1987 was not a death penalty. It was a harsh but fair punishment that killed a couple of seasons of football and forced the powers that be at SMU to reevaluate their priorities.
What happened to Penn State on July 23, 2012 (note: this previously said 2011 for some odd reason) – that’s a death penalty.
In front of an eager audience of reporters who had more or less pieced together what was coming before it was even announced, NCAA President Mark Emmert let it be known that his governing body fined Penn State $60 million, banned it from bowl games for four years, vacated the school’s wins from 1998 to 2011, and massively slashed the amount of scholarships that it could award over the next few years.
"The Penn State case has provoked in all of us a deeply emotional response and shaken our confidence in many ways," Emmert said.
This punishment comes less than two weeks after the release of the Freeh Report – a Penn State-sanctioned investigative analysis of the school’s behavior before, during and after it became apparent that Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant coach, spent the better part of (at least) a decade raping young boys.
Last month, Sandusky was convicted on 45 counts of molesting 10 different boys over a 15-year span.
According to Emmert, the $60 million -- the equivalent of one year’s gross football revenue for Penn State -- fine will be spread around organizations that prevent and educate people on child sexual abuse.
"This case involves tragic and tragically unnecessary circumstances," Mr. Emmert said.
While the vacating of wins seems like a pointless and meaningless endeavor, it does actually serve one purpose: it knocks former Penn State head football coach, Joe Paterno, off his perch as the winningest NCAA Division I coach of all time.
The severity of this punishment, and the apparent haste with which it was brought about, will be debated for days and weeks. However, it’s important to once again reemphasize that this was The Death Penalty. An SMU-like suspension of football would not have had some ramifications that this will. With one relatively quick announcement, Emmert damned Penn State until at least 2020. That’s how long the combination of the bowl games ban and the loss of scholarships will haunt this school.
Stay tuned. Now that the somewhat meaningless punish-the-enablers portion of the show has concluded, it will be interesting to see how the important part gets handled – trying to help the victims.
Sixty million dollars is a good start but, it's just that, a start.