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Thoughts on the Penn State Penalties

(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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When the news broke yesterday morning that the statue of Joe Paterno outside Beaver Stadium was coming down and the NCAA would shortly announce its findings/penalties against the school, we were promised that the entirety of Penn State's punishment would be like nothing we've ever seen before. The word used most often was "unprecedented," which I took as describing the fact that NCAA President Mark Emmert would be using his individual power as never before. If you're reading this, I'm sure that you've heard by now that the world of college football was not disappointed by the penalties announced this morning; they are immense, they are crippling, and they are unprecedented. After that announcement, the Big Ten piled on even more measures designed to beat the now-crippled horse further into submission.

In case you haven't seen those penalties summarized, SBNation has a running page up for all of its coverage of the announcements this morning.* Included in that coverage is the following summation of Penn State's penalties from both the NCAA and its parent conference the Big Ten:

  • 10 incoming scholarships lost first year, 20 scholarship deduction for four years (More on the scholarship losses here)
  • Penn State players can transfer immediately without penalty (More on transfers here)
  • Loss of about $13 million in Big Ten bowl money, also to children's charities
  • Four-year bowl ban and Big Ten Championship Game ban
  • $60 million fine over five years, with the fine going to an endowment for children's charities
  • Vacation of all wins from 1998 through 2011 (meaning Joe Paterno now ranks seventh among all D1 coaches in wins)
  • Five years NCAA probation
  • The NCAA-enforced creation of various oversight positions

Wow. Digest all that for a moment and then you can check out my thoughts below the jump.

*If you want to read more about this, I highly suggest you take a look at the reaction piece from Spencer Hall (of EDSBS fame) over on the mothership.

I've been somewhat busy this morning with other things, but here are a few thoughts I've cobbled together:

  • I'm not sure how crazy I am about the idea of Mark Emmert having the individual power to levy these kinds of penalties without following the infractions process or convening an independent NCAA investigation. In this case, the NCAA basically assumed the veracity of the Freeh Report, used that report in lieu of the NCAA's own investigations, and announced penalties in a shockingly swift fashion. I won't be the first to say this and I won't be the last; I'm not comfortable with the precedent we're seeing from this case.
  • This is, without a doubt, the hardest any school has been hit by the NCAA since SMU got the "death penalty" for 1987 and 1988. Hindsight being what it is, we probably won't know which punishment-- SMU's or PSU's-- is actually "worse" for a few years. My suspicion is that PSU will weather its penalties better than SMU did, but PSU is a better program -- in terms of recruiting, tradition, and history-- now than SMU ever was. PSU has more to build with going forward.
  • In the short-term, the decision by the NCAA to let players transfer immediately without penalty to any school of their choosing will have a disastrous effect on Penn State football in 2012 and 2013. We're late enough in the summer-- most schools start fall practice in about six weeks and have filled their scholarship limits for 2012 already-- that it may not mean much this year. Next year will likely be very different, however, especially after this season plays out and players realize the effects of scholarship limits and bowl bans. I don't doubt that some players will transfer this year, and I'll be interested to see where they go. As I said on twitter last night, I wouldn't be surprised to see Baylor as a potential destination for a few transferees given Norwood's history at the school, but I don't want to speculate any further on that. I'll also be interested to see how this affects Shawn Oakman's eligibility at Baylor. I would bet anything we try to get him eligible for 2012 using this ruling.
  • In the long term, the scholarship limit of 65 starting in 2013 (they're limited to 75 in 2012) is easily the harshest penalty. That is just crippling. Scholarships are worth their weight in gold in major college football and PSU just lost 20 of them per year for 2013-2017. That limits the sizes of their recruiting classes, their ability to fill holes, and obviously the number of scholarship athletes they can even have on the roster. USC, by comparison, was limited to 75 the past three years for its shenanigans. 65 is much, much worse. If you don't believe me, read this piece by Bud Elliott.
  • It sounds weird to say this, but the money damages are probably not that big of a deal. Giving that money to charities designed to help abuse victims will be the biggest positive to come out of these penalties, but Penn State won't hurt for the funds. They'll make that up from donations if they haven't already. It's a symbolic gesture by the NCAA, but a good one in terms of positive impact.
  • The second-harshest penalty is probably the 4-year bowl ban, and make no mistake, the time period was chosen for a reason. A 4-year ban means that nobody recruited in the 2012 class can see the postseason without a redshirt year, and the 2013 class would see one, if Penn State was eligible, for the first time in their redshirt junior years. That will be a huge negative recruiting tool for Penn State's rivals-- because recruits want to play in bowl games-- that will hit harder now than in the future. Recruiting in 2013 will suffer, which will then impact 2014, 2015, and so on.
  • I don't have any evidence for this, but I'm going to guess that vacating Paterno's wins was not the NCAA's idea. We've been told that the speed of this announcement and PSU's decision to waive any right to appeal the NCAA's decision means that the school was involved in crafting its own penalties. I think, but I don't know, that vacating 111 of Paterno's victories (all gained between 1998 and 2011), was Penn State's attempt to change its own history and knock Paterno off the incredibly lofty perch on which he was placed by the Nittany Lion faithful. If you believe that this scandal resulted, at least in part, from the blind devotion given to one man and the power that devotion afforded him, rewriting his history, even after his death, is one way to strip him of his legendary status and force everyone involved to move on. Part of Penn State's problem was that Joe Paterno was the program. Vacating the biggest thing attached to his name-- the wins record for D1 football-- goes a long way to erasing his positive legacy.

I'll probably have more later, but that's my $.02 for now.