Joe Paterno’s statue is down and the NCAA is reportedly on the verge of handing down unprecedented sanctions against Penn State. We are dealing with an unprecedented failure of leadership at Penn State as University officials showed far more concern with covering up the scandal than they did for those abused by former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. There has been speculation that the penalties, to be announced at 9 a.m. tomorrow, might include the “death penalty” which would prevent the school from playing football for one or more seasons. ESPN says they won’t get the death penalty, but the penalties “are considered to be so harsh that the death penalty may have been preferable.” The death penalty might not have been an option according to an AP report:
The last time the NCAA shut down a football program with the so-called ”death penalty” was in the 1980s, when SMU was forced to drop the sport because of extra benefits violations. After the NCAA suspended the SMU program for a year, the school decided not to play in 1988, either, as it tried to regroup.
Current NCAA rules limit the penalty to colleges already on probation that commit another major violation. But NCAA leaders have indicated in recent months they are willing to use harsher penalties for the worst offenses. That includes postseason and TV bans, which haven’t been used extensively since the 1980s.
”This is completely different than an impermissible benefits scandal like (what) happened at SMU, or anything else we’ve dealt with. This is as systemic a cultural problem as it is a football problem. There have been people that said this wasn’t a football scandal,” Emmert told PBS. ”Well, it was more than a football scandal, much more than a football scandal. It was that but much more. And we’ll have to figure out exactly what the right penalties are. I don’t know that past precedent makes particularly good sense in this case, because it’s really an unprecedented problem.”
USA Today quotes former NCAA investigators as saying that “Penn State is eligible for the death penalty even though it is not a so-called repeat violator because all punitive options are on the table in cases involving major rules violations.”
It is likely that the penalties will prevent Penn State from attending bowl games for one or more years. Ohio State is ineligible for bowl participation next year, leaving Wisconsin with a pretty open road to represent the Leader’s Division in the Big Ten’s second championship game next year.
Even without the impending sanctions, it is questionable if Penn State could recover from a scandal of this magnitude in the near future to become a major football power again. The stigma will probably keep away many potential recruits, and might also impact hiring of coaching staffs. Sanctions which might keep Penn State out of bowls, off of television, and limit recruiting will make rebuilding even more difficult. It also doesn’t help Penn State that they do not have a football tradition to fall back upon beyond the now tainted Paterno years. I do not think that there will be much happiness in Happy Valley for years to come, and there will be strong economic repercussions beyond the loss of a winning football team for the region.