The Penn State University (PSU) Nittany Lion football team was anchored by mainstay head coach Joe Paterno for 61 years. Paterno, who began his tenure with the team as an assistant coach in 1950 to his dismissal in 2011, led his team to two national championships and five undefeated seasons. The savvy coach, who saw many of his college players ultimately succeed as they moved on to the National Football League (NFL), was a universally respected figure among his collegiately peers and the recipient of much admiration by PSU fans. But it was his persistence to not only cultivate talented football players, but to better the men that he coached which earned him respect .
A scandal involving child sex abuse, a potential cover-up and an assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky, put a damper on Paterno’s legacy as one of the best collegiate football coaches of all time, one who both witnessed and influenced a revolution in the way football was played. On July 23, 2012, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) came down with its sanctions against Penn State, the figureheads of which are a four-year ban from postseason competition, a $60 million fine and removal major scholarships. There is no doubt that Sandusky did wrong, Joe did wrong, the old program did wrong. What’s questionable is the NCAA’s penalty, a penalty that will affect the future of Penn State when it is its past that has done wrong.
If you look at Penn State’s current staff, you will find little overlap from Sandusky’s days. Joe Paterno was fired, Sandusky is no longer associated with the program and the players are living their own lives. It is as if the NCAA is punishing a son for his father’s crimes.
Truly Penn State was headed in the right direction. Joe Paterno no longer has a headset on during Saturday games. It is Bill O’Brien who runs the show and is heading in a new direction, yet the NCAA refuses to the program as new. The NCAA decided to tear down a program instead of the individuals responsible. The NCAA attacked Penn State for what Joe, Sandusky and those around them had done.
The NCAA does not care for the real harm this has done. Removing Joe Paterno’s wins when Sandusky was defensive co-coordinator is the only attack on the men responsible, who do not care. Sandusky is facing a lifetime sentence in jail; he has more to worry about than wins. Joe Paterno is dead and the removal of his wins will only affect his legacy.
The people truly at harm are the students and the college town that surrounds Penn State. University Park, Pennsylvania is a college town. The locals flock to Beaver Stadium every Saturday to cheer on the blue and white. Students can’t fill the 106,572 seats alone. The fans in the community are passionate and the Saturday traditions will be gone for the next four years. No tailgates, face paint, cheers, thrills or rivalries will exist. The students at Penn State will no longer have that tradition either. No one will camp outside Beaver Stadium, no one will party after a win and no one will watch a competitive football game within Beaver Stadium for the next four years.
The NCAA has done a horrible thing; they have hurt those not responsible. The NCAA made this move to remove their name from Penn State, to hack the team off like an unwanted limb. The NCAA should have allowed the courts to do the work, to punish those responsible. The NCAA is afraid of a public view; that the NCAA was at fault for this and so the NCAA must lash out. It attacked Penn State to make sure it stayed clean.
This is not an issue of college athletics, this is an issue of an organization’s failure. This has nothing to do with a pig skin or yard lines. This is a failure of co-workers to report what they are mandated under law. The NCAA should let the courts handle this, let the law take its due process. Instead, the NCAA struck while the iron was hot. They swooped in and ransacked the program. The NCAA has killed a hope for a new Penn State, a chance at a sudden rebound, a moving on from the past. Like a ball and chain attached to a prisoner’s leg, they have forever linked PSU to the scandal. Penn State will not make a new name. Though Joe Paterno’s statue does not remain on campus (it was removed before he was proven guilty) his face will be the forever associated with PSU.
A Joe Paterno bobblehead now lies outside Beaver Stadium, placed there by an unknown fan. It is not there to remind people of the bad, but of the good. Once Penn State stood for something, something good. To the NCAA it doesn’t matter what will become of Penn State; they will make money all the same. Yet this penalty will make the future much dimmer for PSU–the past will be ever-present, and will prevent Penn State from moving on.