News,  Sports

Not the death penalty, but might as well be at Penn State

The NCAA’s sanctions against Penn State have just been announced, and they are devastating. Penn State has been fined $60 million dollars, the equivalent of one year’s profits from the football program. They’ve been banned from the postseason for four years, which in practical terms means they won’t compete in the postseason for at least eight years. Penn State’s wins from 1998-2011 have been vacated—meaning that Joe Paterno is no longer the winningest coach in college football history. That distinction now goes back to Bobby Bowden.

This is not the “death penalty,” but it might as well be. Penn State recruiting is dead. Current players are allowed to leave and begin play immediately at their transfer school. The Nittany Lions will be a team of walk-ons within two years. Penn State football got annihilated today. The effects of these sanctions will likely be what they were with the “death penalty” at SMU. Penn State football may never recover from this. The only thing missing from these sanctions is the symbolic statement that comes from the “death penalty.”

Joe Paterno’s legacy at Penn State and within college football in general has been decimated. His statue is gone. His record as winningest coach is gone. His respect is gone. There really is nothing left.

Read the full story at Watch the announcement of the sanctions below.

UPDATE: Some readers have asked me what I think about the sanctions. Were they enough? Should Penn State have gotten the death penalty? My answer to those questions is that I am ambivalent about it. On the one hand, it seems impossible to come down too hard on what happened at Penn State. Strong sanctions—such as the death penalty—send powerful signals that this kind of corruption will not be tolerated. That’s exactly the kind of message I’d like for the NCAA to send to Penn State and the rest of college football.

On the other hand, I hate to see the innocent fans, students, players, and citizens of State College suffer for something they had nothing to do with. By “suffer,” I’m not merely talking about the lack of competitive football to cheer for. I mean that the economy of State College is built to some extent around the football program. Killing the football program could decimate that little town (watch this report). Their fortunes rise and fall with the football team. I hate to see State College in the doldrums for crimes that they themselves abhor as the rest of us do. Therein is my ambivalence as far as sanctions are concerned.

Having said that, I really do think that the sanctions issued by the NCAA are really tough. The economic impact is already being felt in State College (again, watch this report). The Nittany Lions may never come back from this. Ten years from now, we may look back on these sanctions as that which killed Penn State football for good. We’ll see.


  • Justin Beadles

    I haven’t the expertise to evaluate the intricacies of the actual penalty. However, it seems that Penn State would do well by falling on their sword and accepting the punishment without quarrel.

    Further, there should be no talk about the penalty causing innocent athletes to suffer. The penalty came because no one protected innocent boys being subjected to heinous suffering.

  • Nick Horton

    I was curious how many other times the death penalty had been imposed and for what violations. Wikipedia has a short article on the schools that it was imposed on and what their violations were. SMU being the only football program listed. I thought for sure PSU would receive the death penalty, but I understand now why they did not after reading this paragraph:

    “Years later, members of the committee that imposed the “death penalty” said that they had never anticipated a situation where they would ever have to impose it, but their investigation at SMU revealed a program completely out of control.[17] Still, the crippling effects the penalty had on SMU has reportedly made the NCAA reluctant to impose another one. Former University of Florida President John V. Lombardi, now president of the Louisiana State University System, said in 2002: “SMU taught the committee that the death penalty is too much like the nuclear bomb. It’s like what happened after we dropped the (atom) bomb in World War II. The results were so catastrophic that now we’ll do anything to avoid dropping another one.”[18]”

    It would seem the penalty was not imposed because it would affect too many other schools and the conference as a whole, especially with a big time program like PSU.

    Souce page:

  • donsands

    All this against a University, because of a pervert? First I must say, “But for the grace of God, there go I.”

    It’s a difficult thing to do, to judge a whole school for the one man, and Joe Pa for not rebuking this coach.

    I would make the penalties much more direct, and let the school continue, and give credit where credit is due.

    Joe Pa I’m sure, if he was a Christian and went ot be with His Lord regrets not saying something to this wicked coach. Then again, the scariest thing to contemplate is God’s Judgment in all of this.
    I thank my Lord right now for His precious blood that has cleansed me from all sin, and I am now clothed in the righteousness of Jesus. Wow! Amazing Love, how can it be?

    Thanks for the post Denny. This is a difficult ordeal that we od need to talk about.

  • David Thomas

    Human beings are judged before the throne of God in heaven because we are created in God’s image and are ultimately eternal. Institutions and nations are judged on earth because they are temporal. This had to happen for a number of reasons.

    The NCAA did right on the fine, because it goes to abuse victims. They did right on vacating the wins, because they were recognizing the scope and the reality of Paterno’s failure. I feel they should have been even harder on the scholarship restrictions, but you are likely right, Denny: Recruiting is dead anyway. The best (or worst) part is that current players and recruits can immediately leave and play elsewhere. Get ready for an exodus.

    AS for the statement “but for the grace of God, there go I,” well, I think the point is that THERE WE GO. All regionalistic fandom aside, if the fall a program and coach as iconic as Penn State and Paterno aren’t emblematic of where we are as a nation, and doesn’t serve as a warning against the hubris of idolatry and all its absurd distortion of priorities, I don’t know what will.

  • donsands

    “..well, I think the point is that THERE WE GO. ”

    My point is that as well, if you mean we are all children of wrath, and deserve to be judged.
    And yet, even now I think of my hundreds, and thousnads of sins Christ took upon Himself as my propitiation, and as the Holy Lamb of God, whom I love, and am forever grateful. And even with this truth in my heart and soul, I still rebel, and sin. And God’s grace once again is given to me, and He keeps my name written in His Book of Life.

    I pray from this horrible sinful event our Lord will do much to glorify His grace and righteousness. Amen.


      Amen and amen.

      Yet I’m not sure you are capturing my point. The blood of Christ redeems individuals (sinners become Christians) and groups of individuals (or rather, /a/ group of individuals–the Church). Christians and the Church are eternal; universities, corporations, and even nation states are temporal.

      Penn State (or any other manmade institution for that matter) does not qualify as the Church. Christians can operate /within/ such institutions, but as such they cannot be and are not redeemed per the passages and theological truth you allude to.

      When I said “there go we” I was referring collectively to the American idolatry of sports. My purpose is so stating was to guard against glib posturing that, well, that’s PSU, not _____ (fill in the blank with your favorite team), so we’re/I’m OK.

      In one sense PSU’s trangression is PSU’s alone, and hence the punishment. But in another sense we’d best take notice and regard our own hearts.

  • JamesStanton

    Kinda interesting that there were posts about Penn State and Chick-fil-a but nothing about the mass shooting in Colorado.

    • Matt Svoboda


      There is nothing interesting about it. Do you have a blog?

      If so, you know that not everything can be covered. If not, let me tell you, not everything can be written about.

      • JamesStanton

        Well Matt, I was noticing that a lot of the Christian bloggers i read hadn’t tried to address the implications of such an event or our reactions to it other than to express condolences. So, to be truthful I was just dropping a hint that I hoped a blogger I read would soon cover it. That’s pretty much it.

  • Danny Gardnes

    Does anyone see the scary side of this? The crimes are horrific and are being handled in a legal/police manner. So the NCAA decides for the FIRST TIME ever to penalize a program without due process. Sure, they are patting themselves on the back in the NCAA offices after grandstanding re: PSU while the depth of the issues at UNC and Miami continue to get worse. The NCAA used to come into your institution and clean house when you cheated. I know because I am a graduate of Clemson University. Since that time outside of USC they have slapped every major program on the hand. The pounds of flesh have added up over those 20 years. USC is still on probation and will be ranked in the top 5 this year???? This is essentially an attempt to provide cover for the NCAA’s mishandling of the disgrace of what we call college football. Here’s the scary side. Shocking that Christians are all intwined in the emotions of the situation. Rah-rah go get em NCAA we don’t care that you’ve overstepped you bounds…just get em.
    Now, thanks to the NCAA this is a football, SportsCenter, SI story not a criminal story.
    This is another nail in the coffin for CFB especially the southern schools leaving the NCAA and starting their own brand. Sometimes public rah rah doesn’t mean you’ve done the right thing.


      I reespectfully disagree that, in the larger sense, PSU did not receive due process here. In the other cases typically mentioned (SMU, Clemson, USC, etc.) the NCAA investigation is the ONLY one going. There /has/ to be a lengthy series of interviews, conferences, blah blah.

      In this case, not only did the criminal justice system conduct a long and thorough investigation and try the whole thing in court, but PSU itself spent nearly 7 million dollars on the Freeh Report. The fact that PSU signed away its right to appeal tells us something: The trustees and admin of Penn State WANTED the NCAA to just pull the trigger and get it over with. The dragging it out, the continual tnesion, the fear of the unknown, and the bad press attention that comes with a pending report is simply too much agony for such an institution. I’ve been head of an institution that went through a simple labor dispute with a former employee (dating from before I took the helm), and it was agony. That was a tea party compared to this.

      I agree the NCAA was partially motivated by an attempt to legitimize itself, especially after questionable performance int he past. But isn’t /everyone/ involved stepping carefully here?

      I have a different view because this situation makes any and all previous NCAA violations look minor by comparision. It is not apples and oranges with previous cases, it’s apples and moon rocks.

      • Danny Gardnes

        I don’t believe it’s within the scope of the NCAA’s power. As a conservative(politically) and a Christian the whole thing horrifies me because it is all an appeal to public opinion.

        And again, now it’s about football and not the horrible crime that took place. But, the public got its pound of flesh…that’s what’s important.


          Well, I’m a conservative Christian, too. And I’m not sure really how that plays in. We cannot have conservatives writing books like /The Death of Outrage/ (the thesis of which, from a conservative point of view, is that public outrage is a MUST under certain circumstances), then say public opinion is a priori to be ignored. I will agree that mob rule is always to be guarded against, but if we aren’t careful we’ll take cold rationality to an extreme and disqualify ourselves from action simply /because/ there is public outcry and/or we feel viscerally about something. In this case, both the outcry and the revulsion were perfectly justified. If we decry mob rule as a justification for doing nothing or little in a case like this, we are in essence making the proverbial error about Indians who walk single file–a logical fallacy.

          For me, the bigger question (and one you directly address) is whether college sports may have a governing body and whether that body should have punitive powers AT ALL. Folks whining about innocent players, fans, etc. taking the brunt of the sanctions is, in effect, a statement that sanctions should NEVER be levied if ANYONE beyond the perpetrators themselves gets their feelings hurt or lives inconvenienced, and if they do it’s somehow unjust. For me, that suggestion is as close to abject absurdity as grown ups can come.

          On the other hand, Danny, at least you state your position outright that there shouldn’t even BE an NCAA. I respect your transparency, even if I respecfully disagree with your position.

          • Danny Gardnes

            I can see how you might think I said there should be no NCAA at all. Didn’t mean to communicate that. I think the NCAA has become its own worst enemy. They are now more about an appearance of having college football under control. They are like a welfare program that can’t be reformed. I think the NCAA will be around for a long time. However, I think teams in the SEC and some other southern schools/conferences will leave and start their own “NCAA”. They will have a ruling body with rules that don’t take 7 lawyers to figure out. I don’t really care about what happens to the players students etc. from an emotional perspective. What I care about is the fact that the NCAA in my opinion has inserted itself into something much, much bigger than what they are geared to deal with. Let’s hope they don’t hire Kofi Annan to distribute the $60m. The NCAA had there day in the sun yesterday. Everyone said, “ahh, the NCAA got one right”.
            The Christian comment is largely a comment on civility at large. If this is how the court of public opinion works(on 90% emotion) Christians will be fighting an uphill battle for a long time. I was naive enough to believe that the NCAA would keep their part of the agreement they made with schools regarding policing of athletic affairs not criminal ones.

            • David Thomas

              Well, we’ll just agree to disagree.

              I think the NCAA has made mistakes–no institution is perfect. (And for the record, we are ALWAYS our own worst enemy!) But I think it is helpful to remember that the “NCAA” consists not of detached bureaucrats but college administrators whose schools have to deal with the fallout in situations like this. In other words, collectively the college teams are governed by…/themselves/. Again, PSU agreed to these sanctions, even if they didn’t like them. I’m also not sure that the decision was as “emotional” as you claim. I suppose only God can judge that.

              In my view the NCAA provided a valuable service here: They provided a sort of natural “atonement” for PSU that allows it to remain in the game. These sanctions allow other teams to play Penn State “guilt free” because the punishment has already been meted out by the accepted authority. If the NCAA had abdicated, then temas and schools would have been placed in a most awkward situation: Do they “go it alone” and impose their own boycott?

              You have a view that this was not an atheltic affair, but a criminal and civil one. I can tell you right now, my alma mater (Notre Dame) would never submit to that distinction. Ironically, neither would Penn State have up till now! The understanding that integration of athletics and learning, sports and the lives of the participants, is generally seen as a noble cornerstone of the collegiate (and Olympic) tradition (check out the old flick /Chariots of Fire/, an evangelical favorite, for a cinematic version of the same, or /Rudy/ if you please for a football version).

              The NCAA may fall. But on this one I think they kept inside the lines, more or less.

  • Dorian Geldmeier

    One thing that amazes me about this story is the sheer destructive force of sin. One man’s sin turned into a cover up and the sins kept piling on until Sandusky’s sins have effectually destroyed the entire town and university. If you bottle up your sins the pressure will only build and the explosion will only be bigger and affect more lives.

  • donsands

    “Folks whining about innocent players, fans, etc. taking the brunt of the sanctions is, in effect, a statement that sanctions should NEVER be levied if ANYONE beyond the perpetrators themselves gets their feelings hurt or lives inconvenienced, and if they do it’s somehow unjust.”-davidthomas

    You convinced me. But why $60,000,000? I think it should have been 75 mil. No, I think it should have been 50 mil. Actually how about $250,000,000?
    And I have a few other thoughts as well how we could do better concerning bowl games, students, and how many wins Joe has to give up. But who am I?

    And then again they have great authority in knowing how to come up with the right amount: $60,000,000.

    • David Thomas

      $60 million=football revenues (from all sources–ticket sales, apparel, etc.) for a single year at PSU, one of collegiate football’s most lucrative programs–until now, anyway. I have little doubt that a plethora of figures were kicked around, but this one likely seemed less arbitrary than others due to its symbolism. And symbolism is more important than many moderns are typically willing to grant, though the “take it down or we will” banner regarding JoPa’s statue seems to show many are catching on.

      The money goes for abuse victims anyway. If it had been more the NCAA would’ve been too harsh, I suppose, since they are about to get clocked by civil suits to the tune of millions more.

  • donsands

    Why a single year David? I wonder. Why not all the years Sandusky was sinning, and Joe was covering up?
    I suppose you need to “punish” PSU, but it just seems stupid to me. Overkill.

    I suppose I’m wrong. If I was Joe Pa, and i turned and looked the other way, then I would expect to be rebuked, but not the whole school.
    That’s me.

    • David Thomas

      It stinks to be in authority and have to make these decisions. Whatever they decide, someone isn’t going to like it and will question their reasonings to which no one but they are privy. What an irony that these NCAA guys are taking hits for their call on this mess, along with PSU nation, and Paterno is dead in his grave.

      There’s a collective responsibility thing that our fierce, post-Enlightenment individualism just doesn’t get. I think Old Testament Hebrews would understand this a lot more.

      But that /me/ 🙂

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