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The tragedy of Penn State: Sanctions are harsh, but didn’t go far enough

I would’ve preferred to see the NCAA shut down the Penn State football program in its entirety.

Former Penn State assistant football coach Sandusky leaving the Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte, Pa.A

On Monday, the NCAA handed down its punishment to Penn State University in regard to Jerry Sandusky’s sexual abuse of  boys while an assistant football coach with the school and school leaders’ attempts to cover up the abuse. The sanctions, vacating the team record from 1998 to 2011, the loss of 20 football scholarships for four years, a four-year post-season ban and a $60 million fine, is as harsh as the NCAA has ever been, but, in my opinion, it didn’t go far enough. I would’ve preferred to see the NCAA shut down the Penn State football program in its entirety.

What happened at Penn State wasn’t getting administrators to write papers, as Jan Gangelhoff did for Clem Haskins’ Minnesota basketball team. It wasn’t paying players to commit to the program or boosters giving the better players cars. It wasn’t even intentionally fixing the outcome of games. It was far beyond anything to do with sports, transcending into an evil, criminal activity: decades of child rape using Penn State Football to hide behind. Fifteen years ago, when university leaders had become aware something was going on, the university chose to cover it up, and, in turn, became Sandusky’s enablers.

This crime is far more horrible than any sports-related problem needing the NCAA’s oversight, and if this doesn’t deserve the ultimate punishment, what would?

I like some aspects of the punishment. Sixty million dollars is the profit for the football team for an entire year, and the money will go to programs helping victims of abuse. Plus $60 million is going to end up being just the tip of the financial-payout iceberg Penn State will have to endure. Vacating the wins for 15 years not only removes the positive outcomes embraced during the coverup, but removes Head Coach Joe Paterno from his perch as winningest NCAA football coach, a record achieved under his deeply tarnished program.

The real victims

I’ve heard too many sports reporters talk about the real victims of this scandal, the current Penn State players, who’ll see no post-season games and the loss of scholarships. Two points: I have no doubt these sanctions will cripple the football team for decades, if not forever, but many of the players will still be under scholarship, they will be able to play regular season games, and the NCAA is allowing the current players to transfer to a different school and keep their scholarships. If anything, the NCAA is trying to minimize the pain for the current players, and if the players are still upset, blame the violation, not the punishment. Secondly, the real victims of this crime were the abused boys, and to say the players are the real victims minimizes the severity of the crime, something that needed to stop 15 years ago.

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At the end of the day, Penn State will still be playing football. It’s for this reason I feel the punishment is toothless. Because the Penn State football program was used as a vehicle to facilitate these crimes, and because the head coach was complicit in the coverup of these crimes, the university, in my opinion, has forfeited the right to even have a football program.

The ultimate warning

If you made the punishment for this crime so harsh, it would act as the ultimate warning to all other universities and colleges.  Yes, there are people who’d lose their jobs and there are some businesses that would have to close because they’ve lost their main revenue source, but once again, blame the violations, not the punishment. When a different team at a different school discovers one of the assistant coaches raping a child in the showers at the team facility, the bad press would be far more welcomed than being “Penn State’ed” and seeing your program wiped from existence.

There is a very real possibility this horrible crime is actually happening at another university, where a pedophile has been able to shield a crime through one of the college’s sports teams. A stronger penalty would prevent a winning, bigger-than-life coach, a coach with tremendous power and pull not only on campus but with the neighboring community, from thinking he or she can control reality and determine what laws should and should not be followed.

Matthew McNeil is the host of The Morning Grind morning show on AM 950, from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m.

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