(Editor’s Note. Anthony Lubrano, a member of the Board of Trustees for Penn State University, was widely quoted as making the following short statement about the Penn State scandal and the school’s former football coach and icon, “Joe Paterno is not responsible for all child sexual abuse in America.” It is simply a fact that many people remain convinced that Paterno has been made a scapegoat in the current scandal).
In the early morning light of a sleepy Sunday morning on July 22 a school work crew removed the statue of Coach Paterno from its place in front of Nittany Stadium on the Penn State campus. The statue was removed in pieces and is now stored in a warehouse on the sprawling campus.
On Monday July 23 the NCAA and the Big Ten announced penalties assessed against the school. The school was spared the NCAA’s death penalty; but the announced penalties are staggering in the impact they will have on the Penn State football program. These penalties include:
- Placing the school’s program on probation for five years.
- Banning the school’s team from any bowl game for the next 4 seasons beginning in 2012.
- Limiting scholarships to new student-athletes to 15 per year beginning with the 2013 recruiting class. These limits will remain for 4 consecutive recruiting classes.
- Limiting the total number of players on scholarship as of the fall, 2013 semester to no more than 65. The Division 1 limit is 85.
- Allowing any player currently on scholarship or about to enter school on scholarship a one-time transfer to any school where he can be eligible to play immediately. The NCAA will grant schools accepting these transfer players an exemption to the 85 scholarship limit in most cases.
- The school will be fined a total of $60 million over the next 5 years—which the school’s president said will be paid at the rate of $12 million per year. The NCAA will place these funds into a separate account and use the money to fund programs designed to protect young people from sexual predators.
- Stripped Joe Paterno of all victories from 1998 through 2011. The total comes to 111 wins and reduces his official total of victories in the NCAA record book from 409 to 298. He drops from first to 9th on the all-time wins list.
The NCAA announced that its investigation will be ongoing and that additional penalties are possible. The bowl ban is the stiffest issued by the organization since Indiana was banned from bowls for 4 years in 1960.
A little later on July 23 a Big ten spokesperson announced that the league is fining Penn State an additional $13 million in monies that will be withheld from its share of league broadcast and bowl revenues. The Big Ten also reserves the right to remove Penn State’s football team from the league entirely if circumstances warrant.
Current Penn State officials signed a consent decree with the NCAA agreeing in advance to the penalties; the school will not appeal. The NCAA did not follow its normal procedures of having its Enforcement Staff investigate and then to hold hearings before its Infractions Committee. Its Board of Governors voted to waive normal procedures because of the extraordinary nature of the current situation. From a legal standpoint the NCAA found that not only did former Penn State senior administrators not exercise institutional control over the football program but that these officials engaged in a cover up that lasted for well over a decade.
It is likely that by the 2013 season Penn State will be trying to play a big-time schedule using perhaps no more than 50 scholarship athletes. Graduation of this year’s seniors and the likely transfer of a large number of players could leave the roster at 40 or so players by December who will have eligibility for 2013 and beyond. The school can only sign 15 next February, so it could very well enter the 2013 season with around 55 players on scholarship. The school would probably wind up relying heavily on walk-on players just to fill out a 3-deep depth chart.
Penn State may find that it takes the better part of a decade to return the program to competitive prominence. During that time will it still be able to fill its 107,000 seat stadium every Saturday?
The NCAA has only used the death penalty one time—in 1986 against Southern Methodist University (SMU). In 1985 and 1986 SMU played its home games in Cowboys Stadium and averaged over 60,000 fans per game. After the sanctions were imposed the school also decided not to field a team in 1988. In 1989 the school returned to playing its home games in a 25,000 seat on campus stadium. For a decade the Mustangs struggled to average 20,000 fans per game.
The school eventually built a new stadium that seats 33,000. The team draws 28-30,000 fans per game playing in Conference USA. The school’s teams have managed to play in two bowl games in the 23 season since the program was restarted.
These numbers must be sobering to Penn State. The school has a huge overall athletic program. The funding for these sports comes in large part from football. Without being able to fully share in conference revenues for 5 years and with its fan base potentially eroding, how will the school maintain its overall athletic department as it now exists?
The fact is that Joe Paterno is not responsible for all child sexual abuse in the United States. What he and at least 3 other top administrators were responsible for is a cover up of a pedophile—actions taken or not taken over almost 15 years that can only be seen as protecting the name and legacy of the school’s football program and its coach.
The impact on an outstanding university and its students, alumni and supporters is heartbreaking to witness. It is profoundly sad to know that the legacy of Joe Paterno is forever tarnished. Life is about choices and all choices have consequences. Choices Coach Paterno and others made over a period of years had unfathomable consequences for a number of children who now have to live with their memories for the rest of their lives. It is impossible to see how anyone could feel that the people who made those decisions, and the school they represented, could not face very severe consequences.
This situation is NOT about football and it is NOT about Joe Paterno. It is ultimately about children who were not protected by adults from a predator in their midst. The adults involved in these decisions will simply have to deal with their own consciences and over the coming years as they attempt to put their lives back together.
By exacting such tough penalties the NCAA and Big Ten have hopefully sent a message that we as a society cannot just forget and move on. If we do then we too will be guilty to some degree of complicity in this mess. At that point we all will have to some degree failed these young men who are now young adults.
Greg Tyler is the editor of The Sport Digest. He has written several times about the scandal at Penn State. He is also the Library Director/Archivist at the United States Sports Academy and teaches courses, primarily in the area of sport law.