Emmert took away money and scholarships and all but congratulated himself and the organization for administering what he called “unprecedented” penalties, punitive measures that went far and beyond, he said, the NCAA’s sentencing guidelines. But he let the games go on.
He merely showed us the same thing the late Paterno, former Penn State president Graham Spanier and two functionaries now facing criminal charges for their roles in the cover-up showed us: that no matter how heinous the scandal, college football must go on.
With Monday’s decision not to pull the plug on the Penn State program, Emmert and the NCAA essentially said that grade-fixing and paying players in the 1980s — violations that led to the “death penalty” shutdown of Southern Methodist’s football program for two seasons — was more egregious than former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky molesting pre-pubescent boys in the football building’s showers even after Paterno and others received eyewitness accounts of the behavior.
Never has Emmert and his ineffective bureaucracy looked so afraid of the major colleges who line their coffers and pay their salaries. Never has a $60 million fine seemed driven by public relations.
Yes, that money will go to organizations committed to the restoration of victims of child sexual abuse. But Penn State, the second-highest-grossing program in America, will essentially be able to pay that fine by having a 2012 season.
What Emmert did was not a complete slap on the wrist. Punishing Paterno posthumously, vacating every Penn State victory after Louis Freeh’s independent report concluded the late coach was part of the cover-up, was important. For it let Jay Paterno and every last say-it-isn’t-so-Joe loyalist know that their fallen icon — the coach who passed Eddie Robinson to become the Division I career leader in wins last October — now has fewer wins than Bobby Bowden and Bear Bryant, among others. Joe Pa isn’t No. 1. There. Given what we know now, of course, he never was.
The one tangible penalty was the drastic reduction in scholarships. Eighty-five players used to have their tuition, room and board at Penn State paid for. Now, just 65 kids have full-ride deals. That means Penn State will not be competitive with Ohio State, Michigan or anyone else with tradition and talent in the Big Ten for years to come.
That’s almost as much salt on an open wound in State College as Paterno’s statue being taken down and put in storage somewhere in the stadium. To the zealots who saw Joe Pa and football as their religion, that’s akin to the ark of covenant being pushed into a nondescript warehouse at the end of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”