Thoughts on the Penn State sanctions

On Monday, the NCAA has spelled out the sanctions and punishments for Penn State in the wake of sexual abuse scandal and cover-up.  While the penalties were more severe than what I called for originally, I think the NCAA did a surprisingly good and thorough job in making sure the penalties were appropriate.  In short, I think president Mark Emmert and the NCAA did an excellent job of crafting penalties that fit the crimes, punished the school with minimal impact to student-athletes and the community, and most importantly – allow something good to come out of this horrible situation.

Here are the penalties along with my reactions:

1.  A $60 million penalty, which the PSU will pay into an endowment for “external programs preventing child sexual abuse or assisting victims.”  The NCAA came up with the $60 million figure as an approximate annual revenue for the Penn State football program.

This made me very, very happy.  In my proposal, I had called for PSU to forfeit TV revenue from football (which is around $20 million a year), so essentially the NCAA followed my recommendation.  I’m hopeful the endowment can provide serious results and become a positive legacy to this ugly period.

2.  A four-year football postseason ban – from bowl games and the playoffs that will begin in 2014.  The Big Ten conference later imposed a ban on participation in the Big Ten Championship game as well.

I have mixed feelings on this.  Sure, the university and program probably does not deserve the perks that come with a bowl game (the prestige, payouts, and extra practices among them), but this is something that impacts current players who were not involved in the school’s cover-up.  It also (somewhat) impacts the other schools in the Big Ten conference  who receive an equal share of bowl game revenues from all members.  And frankly, between the scholarship reductions hurting PSU’s talent and depth and the negativity surrounding the program, I’m not sure how many bowl invites Penn State would have received in the next four years anyway.

3.  All Penn State wins, dating to 1998, are vacated.  Joe Paterno’s career record will reflect the loss of 111 wins.

With one huge exception, this is a symbolic gesture.  Regardless of the updated 1-0 final score, I know that Penn State thoroughly whooped my Cornhuskers 40 – 7.  I hope PSU alumni and fans feel the same way.  However, this was the NCAA’s very targeted punishment (revenge?) against JoePa for his role (or lack thereof) in letting Sandusky continue his horrible crimes for so long.  Paterno cared deeply about being the “all time winningest coach”.  It seems fitting that the day after Penn State removes the Paterno statue outside Beaver Stadium, the NCAA takes a wrecking ball to his biggest claim to fame.

4.  A reduction of football scholarships (10 initial and 20 total each year for a four-year period).

A lot of people are saying this will cripple the program and set it back for a good decade.  On the surface, I tend to agree – it is very hard to compete in a high-level conference like the Big Ten as it is (see also, Indiana, Purdue, Illinois) without having 10-20 fewer scholarship players than everyone else.  And yet, I look at Southern Cal, who is in the middle of a 10 scholarship per year penalty, and has ample amounts of high-level talent due to their recruiting successes.  I know that USC and PSU are not an apples-to-apples comparison on a number of fronts, but it is worth noting that when the Freeh Report came out, Penn State’s 2013 recruiting class was ranked in the top 15 in the country.

My other thought on the scholarship reduction is a slight disappointment that there are now 10-20 fewer opportunities for a kid to earn a free college education than there were a week ago.  I know somebody who would have been recruited by PSU will trickle down and get a scholarship at another school, but when you hear about people who owe their success – if not their life – to receiving a scholarship, I hate to see those opportunities lost.

5.  Current PSU players may transfer to another school and play immediately.

This is one that could really hurt Penn State in the short-term.  I’m guessing that pretty much every freshman, sophomore, and scholarship backup has already been approached by another school about how they can come to their school, play this year, and go to a bowl game.  So far, I haven’t heard of anybody jumping ship, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if several players did leave.  The one benefit for Penn State is the penalties came out this late in the summer, so players only have a couple of weeks before fall camp starts and this window closes.

6.  The Penn State athletic department is on probation for five years, and must work with an NCAA-appointed liaison to ensure the athletic culture is in line with university (and NCAA) by-laws.

There isn’t much here that interests me.  The liaison sounds like a feel-good position designed to churn out quarterly reports on how this will never happen again.  The probation is (currently) no big deal, as PSU has bigger concerns.  But it does lay the groundwork for a “death penalty” if new wrongdoings are discovered.

*   *   *

Ah yes, the “death penalty”.  Ever since the Freeh Report came out, national columnists, television pundits, regular fans, and everyone in between have called for the Penn State football program to be shut down for a year or more.  I’m quite pleased that the NCAA did not opt to “kill” the Penn State program.

Why?  Because of the severe impact it would have on hundreds, possibly thousands, of people who had zero involvement with the Sandusky abuse and cover-up.

Since football provides the funds for most of Penn State’s other intercollegiate sports teams, the loss of the football team would likely mean the end for several of the 28 other intercollegiate teams at PSU.  How would justice have been served if the wrestling or women’s gymnastics team was cut?

But really, the biggest impact of a Penn State death penalty would have been to the local economy in State College, PA.  I’ve never been to State College, but living in a college town home to a popular college football team (Lincoln, NE) I know how important the home team (and their six, seven, or eight home games each year) is to the local economy.

I came across a report created by the University of Nebraska that measured the economic impact of the Nebraska Athletic Department (including the football team).  The numbers* were bigger than I expected:

“The Nebraska football program alone had an economic impact on the Lincoln area of:

  • $87.1 million in output (including $35.4 million from fan spending)
  • $31.2 million in worker income
  • 2,130 jobs (one-third being concession or event worker jobs)
  • $498,000 in direct sales tax revenue for the City of Lincoln.”

*These numbers are from the 2004-2005 fiscal year, a highly disappointing season in which Nebraska went 5-6.  It should also be noted that Penn State’s Beaver Stadium seats 25,000 more people than Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium, while State College’s population is 200,000 less than Lincoln, NE.

In other words, if you own a hotel, restaurant, bar, gas station, or retail store in State College, PA you are breathing a huge sigh of relief, because a death penalty for Penn State football likely would have been a death penalty for your business.

I know that if you are not familiar with what a college town like Lincoln or State College looks like on a Football Saturday then you might think I’m being overly dramatic.  But I’m not.  It is quite common to have every hotel charging double (or triple) rates and still being sold out, bars and restaurants being packed from open until close, shops being flooded with pre and post game traffic, people stocking up for the tailgate or house party at the local grocery store, all the way down to neighborhood kids selling parking in their front lawn for $10 a car.  Like it or not, the football program can be – and often is – a driving factor in the local economy.

To be clear, I am not saying the death penalty should never be used.  I simply believe that there is a way to hit Penn State where it hurts, send a clear message to other schools, but limit the punishment’s fallout as much as possible.  I believe the NCAA did an excellent job accomplishing these goals.



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[…] things.  For examples of what I mean, I’ll refer you to my posts on Google Goggles, the Penn State scandal, and the alternate uniforms worn by the Nebraska football […]

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