If ever there was a time for the NCAA to impose the death penalty on an institution, that time is now.
When a school cheats over a prolonged period of time and in such a way that the heads of that school are shown to be either complicit in that cheating or powerless to stop it, the NCAA reserves the right to drop a nuclear bomb of sanctions on that institution. This kind of punishment is rare because of the devastation that it brings.
The last time a college football team was placed on the death penalty was the SMU teams of the late 80s. After repeated violations and warnings, SMU’s football program was eliminated by the NCAA. The punishment was so brutal that the school was forced to cancel even more games because they didn’t have enough players left to fill out a roster. This happened over 20 years ago but it’s the reason why even today you never hear about SMU being in contention for a championship or even playing in a significant game for that matter.
Since SMU’s punishment the Kentucky and Baylor men’s basketball teams almost felt the wrath of the NCAA’s death penalty but they were saved by an administration that acted quickly and effectively to correct the problems.
And then there’s Penn State.
That jewel of a program that has managed to keep its nose relatively clean and remain reasonably competitive while other schools were covering up drug tests and paying players. Penn State was the Duke of NCAA football only with fewer championships.
But this week we found out that the facilities at Penn State were repeatedly used by a member of the Penn State football coaching family to torture little boys.
We found out that at least two people witnessed these crimes on separate occassions.
And we found out that when these crimes were reported to school officials nothing was done.
We still don’t know how many other boys were raped in the showers of the Penn State football facilities after these crimes went unpunished.
As it looks now, Joe Paterno did the right legal thing by reporting this to his superiors a day or so after he found out about it. But, as it looks now, Paterno did the wrong moral thing by not following up or even going to police on his own.
There is probably no other coach in college football with more power than Joe Paterno. We hear a lot about how he has used that power for the better part of four decades to mold young men and run a clean program. It’s just too bad that he didn’t use that power to protect young boys and remove the worst kind of filth from his program.
It is a sad commentary on our society that scores of students would stand outside of a man’s house and cheer for him because he managed to win over 400 games but couldn’t find it within himself to protect several boys who were repeatedly raped in his facilities by one of his men. Are athletics more important than childhood innocence only in Happy Valley or is this a national phenomenon? I don’t think I want to know the answer to that question.
Joe Paterno stepping aside at the end of this season is no kind of punishment or remedy to the situation. Did anyone really expect him to return next year anyway? It’s like George W. Bush getting caught committing some crazy crime and agreeing not to run for reelection after his second term as president is up.
SMU was given the death penalty because their administration played a part in the rampant cheating that was going on at that school and essentially thumbed its nose at the NCAA when they came to investigate.
The times and scenarios are different but the administration at Penn State has done virtually the same thing. Oh, rest assured, there was no cheating going on in Happy Valley. I’m sure no boosters bought suits for players or gave them big backs of cash under the table. Not at a clean program like Penn State. Instead, children were raped while the administration did nothing to stop it. And of course, none of this helped Penn State win any games so don’t worry about Joe Paterno’s 400 plus wins ever being in question.
But ten years from now when you go back and look at the statistics just remember what was going on beneath the surface of that clean, successful program.
In a statement released today, Joe Paterno said, “I will spend the rest of my life doing everything I can to help this university.”
Right now there are at least nine families that are wishing that Joe Paterno had done everything he could to help them.