Let me begin with a disclaimer: I don't know what a proper punishment would have been.
I know that sounds like a cop out, or it may sound unprofessional but, really, who can properly level Penn State University in a case like this?
For Penn State, in case you haven't heard, dinner (or brunch) has been served a la poison with a $60 million fine, a four-year Bowl ban, and the vacation of all wins dating to 1998, which disabled Paterno's all-time wins record and places him in 12th, somewhere around the "Who cares?" category, as if he wasn't there already.
But, like ESPN's Chris Fowler said (in the video above), that nuclear destruction of his professional resume is a "formality" and a "footnote" in a case like this.
PSU also must cut 20 total scholarships from its budget each year for four years, which is a lot when you consider that the Nittany Lions football program was viewed for a long time -- for Joe Paterno's time -- as a place where football supremacy went hand-in-hand with educational success.
Also, all Penn State players will be allowed to transfer and play immediately at other schools. As long as that goes off without a hitch and the NCAA takes care of their necessary paperwork and processing, good. Whatever you have to do.
Now, for the analysis, which is difficult and difficult some more.
Sadly, proper punishments don't exist in a case like this, and I've never been one to hold back when it comes to a crime of this nature. Joe Paterno is lucky he died (RIP, by the way), and there's more to be seen in the case of Jerry Sandusky, the individual whose crimes are so putrid and vile (evil, to try and sum it up in one word) that it's hard to even begin to fathom what should be done with him.
I black out just trying to come to a conclusion there.
But, like all things hopefully tagged as "eye-for-an-eye," there's no way to fix what's been done to his victims. No punishment can undo their tragedy, much like Clifford Olsen's death didn't un-kill or un-mutilate his victims, and Mussolini's bloody public corpse beating didn't undo his 18-year reign over Italy.
No matter the punishment, the felonies happened. We have to move forward and hand out punishment, and the folks responsible need to pay -- even those who let it happen for 14 years. That's inexcusably and cowardly, and the details of the Freeh Report are, like Rick Reilly says, a "disgusting canvas."
"It cost $6.5 million and took eight months and the truth it uncovered was 100 times uglier than the bills," he said of the Report.
And, so, when it comes to the punishment and sentencing -- from a body whose priorities normally lie in seeking a balance between sport and education -- who do you target? Does your punishment hit the right people? Is it justified and, more importantly, is it adequate?
Answer: With today's sentencing courtesy of the NCAA (which, it's important to remember, is not a court of law or a legislature), Penn State's football program will surely become a skeleton of what it once was, and when I say "once was," I mean, like, a year ago, when Joe Paterno was still JoePa and the Penn State Nittany Lions were the embodiment of college football's highest set of ideals.
(Of course, we all know that was a facade -- a wax statue containing snakes and maggots, but the rest of us on the outside saw something we idolized and revered.)
Penn State may just cease to be a functioning football team.
From industry experts, we've heard these fines and penalties are substantial. Massive. Explosive. Like, the Death Star, man! ESPN called them "unprecedented," but does that mean no penalty has ever been so severe or does it mean no penalty has existed? There's a difference.
In reality, it wouldn't be surprising if the NCAA came up with this extensive menu of penalties and knew that the general public wouldn't understand them. How do we, as couch potatoes and armchair quarterbacks, know what a $60 million hit does to Penn State, or what a four-year Bowl ban will do to them, long term?
I know my first response to the charges was to hop onto every news oultet covering it and read what they thought it meant. I know what the Death Penalty is. I know that it bans you from playing college football for one or two (or five) years. I know what means -- it means there's no football.
But, I don't know what each of these means. Do you?
The NCAA said this morning that $60 million is the average annual revenue of Nittany Lions football, and 1998 was picked as the year from which henceforth no wins existed because that's when the first reported case of Sandusky's crimes dates to, and when Joe Paterno apparently began to cover up what he knew to be true.
We knew what a one or two-year Death Penalty would have meant, because it's very simple: NO PENN STATE FOOTBALL. The end result would have been cut and dry, and we can all understand it, even with our varying degrees of knowledge about football or the legal system.
Now, we're stuck reading the analysis of others, and debating over whether these measures are worse or better than the Death Penalty. Who really knows?
Yes, the penalties are severe. Yes, they are harsh. Sure, Penn State may never recover on the field, but... would it have, anyway?
I mean, without Paterno as coach, there's no telling how this team would have done. Even if he had retired or died with moral fibre, Paterno's exit from the head coaching position would have been a massive blow to this team, that school, and that city. Actually, that state, too. He wouldn't be there to coax out wins, and he wouldn't be there to recruit players. Paterno led that team for 45 years. How do you replace that?
So, instead of giving Penn State a measure which we all could understand, the NCAA did its own thing, all the while promising that it would be just and fair, and harsh. Some say this is worse than the Death Penalty, and that may be true. (However, if that was true, then why did Penn State president Rodney Erickson say the school accepted the decision because it didn't want the Death Penalty?)
In reality, the Death Penalty would have crippled the Nittany Lions, and it's very easy to say, "Good riddance!"
At the same time, would it have punished the right people? Would it have accomplished the trick? And, why isn't anybody asking the victims or their families?
Would folks who live in State College, Penn. even be able to survive a one or two-year ban from collegiate football? A little over 100,000 people live in that city, depending on whether you measure those things by city proper, metro, or urban. Beaver Stadium -- where the Nittany Lions play -- holds over 106,000. If you're going to do that, why don't you just drop Little Boy and Fat Man right in the middle of the town, too?
If you kill the football program, who are you really killing? Do we just quarantine that section of Pennsylvania like it's a poor city centre during the Black Plague? Do we just say, "Off with their heads!" and then wait for it all to figure itself out?
But, this whole time, the soap opera has overshadowed the substance, and that's wrong.
Example: Joe Paterno's statue came down too late. It should have been removed immediately. Instead, the University waned on it, and told us they would "make a decision tomorrow," and so we all read about it and debated it. But, there should have been no discussion. Take the statue down, and then listen to the response.
Because, in all of this mess, we've been focusing on the wrong people. Listening to the wrong people.
So, was the decision just? Was it fair? Was it enough? Sure sounds like it, they say.
The only problem is, I have no idea... I guess I'll just have to take your word for it, ESPN.
*This article was originally posted on White Cover Magazine.