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The Penn State Punishment: Is It Fair?

That depends on what the NCAA is trying to accomplish.

Disclaimer:The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official view of College Spun or its affiliates.

By now everybody in the sports world is aware that the NCAA crushed Penn State with unprecedented sanctions in light of the absolutely terrible Jerry Sandusky scandal. Furthermore, the Big Ten has decided to hand out some more punishment by stripping Penn State of its shared bowl revenues over the next four seasons, along with banning them from the conference championship game over that same span.

Now everybody in their right mind agrees that the crimes committed by Jerry Sandusky were beyond heinous, and that the actions of the higher-ups at PSU were despicable and quite frankly, unforgiveable (yes, even for Joe Paterno). And simply put, handing out a punishment in this scenario is brutally difficult; if anybody tells you they have a perfect solution, they are lying through their teeth. So unquestionably the school needs to be punished, even though the main culprit has already been forced to face justice and will rot in prison for the rest of his life. For while the original acts were the result of one sick man, the university's lack of integrity allowed those acts to go on for such an extensive period.

That's what seems to be getting lost a bit in this whole thing. The NCAA is NOT handing out these massive punishments because of the actions of Jerry Sandusky. The NCAA is punishing Penn State for its frightening culture. For deciding that it is better to hide and cover up criminal actions rather than be a recipient of bad press. For deciding that immorality is okay as long as a legendary football coach doesn't disapprove. Ultimately, for valuing football over humanity. This isn't to say that Penn State is the only school where this could have happened -- that is simply not true -- but sadly enough, that's where it did happen.

With all of that said...I think the NCAA was too harsh on Penn State. It is obviously extremely difficult to find a way to hold the people in charge responsible, but I have to believe that there was a better option than this. First, let me say that taking away 100+ wins from Joe Paterno may be the most admirable part of the whole punishment. While plenty of players and coaches spent years working hard for those accomplishments, nobody else is affected as much as Joe by the stripping of those wins. Throughout his whole career, and this process, Paterno was absolutely deified by the Penn State community. No matter what people thought of him, they could all agree that he was a damn good football coach. In fact, he was the best, and the win totals proved it. However, that is no longer the case.

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The fines, I have mixed feelings on those. My first reaction is that $60 million is chump change to a state school, particularly one that received $209 million in donations last year alone. Especially when you consider that Penn State's TV revenues from the Big Ten Network for the next four years will cover the fine on its own. Sure, it loses out on the bowl revenue, but still will makejust under $20 million per season from television money. So that fine doesn't put a dent in the PSU coffers. However, I wholeheartedly support the fines because they are sending that money to children's charities. While that may not hurt the wallets of Penn State's brass, it will do wonders for charities that are often in need of good funding. So for that punishment, I applaud the NCAA.

But now the big issue: a four-year ban from the bowls and docking ten scholarships a year will have catastrophic consequences to the football program - which sounds like a punishment PSU may deserve if you look at it from a distance. But think about all of the individuals who will be affected by this that will have had NOTHING to do with the entire scandal; it's clear they've become collateral damage. To the teenagers and young men that had a dream of playing big time college football that they are now stripped of, it isn't fair. Maybe a one or two year ban is something that could be worked around, but four years is an entire career for a college student. You are telling incoming teenagers that if they want to come to Penn State, they will never have a shot at a bowl.

With only 15 scholarships to hand out each year now, Penn State is going to have a lot of football players paying on their own dime. Now Pennsylvania athletes that may choose to stay in-state for cheaper tuition with an opportunity to play can do so, but not with any chance to accomplish something great (without bowl opportunities). So good luck to Penn State trying to recruit players -- it isn't going to happen. The program has been sentenced to worse than death -- it is essentially subject to public shaming for the next 4+ years. The NCAA is saying "we will allow you to play, just under conditions that make it impossible to have any real success. Have fun."

The biggest farce of all is that the NCAA doesn't have the heart to enforce the unfair punishment. If, at least, the NCAA truly believed that all of the players within the program needed to be punished for "belonging", and that their punishment was justified, then it would never have approved this. The NCAA gave all current PSU players the ability to transfer anywhere without sitting out the standard transfer year.

What message is that sending?!? The NCAA realizes that the students and players shouldn't be subject to undeserved punishment, so it is offering current guys a fair way out. But it is extremely unfair for the new players coming in that they would still have to shoulder that burden.

Like I said, there was no perfect solution to this problem and something had to be done. But the NCAA would have been better served by handing out the feared "death penalty" and cancelling Penn State football for several years rather than torturing new students, players, parents, and fans just to show that it was indeed taking action. After all, wasn't that what the death penalty was created for? I don't know if there has been any situation more deserving of it, and that includes when the NCAA actually handed it out to Southern Methodist for paying players.

Bottom line, this was a tough situation, and the inappropriate actions taken by Penn State were deplorable. It’s just too bad that the NCAA's response wasn't much better.