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Christopher L. Gasper

NCAA did the right thing on Penn State

For once, the NCAA didn’t hide behind its rule book or some obscure bureaucratic bylaw. It applied the rule of common sense and did the right thing.

If someone in a position of power at Penn State had done that, a lot more than a football program would have been spared.

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You know the conduct at Penn State was indefensible when the NCAA, as compassionless and stultifying an organization as exists in sports, can pitch its tent on the moral high ground.

What happened at Penn State, where former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was allowed to use the lure of football to sexually abuse boys, wasn’t about a violation of some picayune NCAA rule. It was about a violation of basic human decency.

That’s what the NCAA held Penn State accountable for on Monday.

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The governing body of college athletics dutifully and righteously dropped the hammer on the football program in Happy Valley, Pa.

The NCAA fined Penn State $60 million, the equivalent of one year of gross revenue generated by the football program, with the money going toward an endowment for programs aimed at preventing child sex abuse; it imposed a four-year postseason ban, which includes the Big Ten conference championship game; stripped the school of 20 scholarships per year over a four-year period (2014-18) and limited its incoming recruiting classes to 15 scholarships, instead of 25, for the next four years; put the Nittany Lions on probation for five years, and forced Penn State to vacate all victories from 1998 through 2011.

That last sanction means that not only has Penn State removed the statue of Joe Paterno from outside Beaver Stadium, but Paterno has posthumously lost his stature as major college football’s all-time winningest coach, his victory total culled from 409 to 298.

Penn State didn’t get the death penalty, but as a football power it’s now on life support.

Scholarship players are the life blood of college football. They are the oxygen that a program breathes, and Penn State is going to be gasping for air the next few years.

Not only are the Nittany Lions going to have fewer scholarships, but the players currently on the team are free to transfer to other Football Bowl Subdivision schools without sitting out a year.

When calculating the stigma on the program, the competitive shackles that have been put on it and the inability to play for any championship, what 17- or 18-year-old kid is going to commit to putting on one of those famed white helmets, which now seem so sullied?

Saying you coached Tom Brady is only going to go so far on the recruiting trail for Penn State coach Bill O’Brien.

Good luck to the former Patriots offensive coordinator who stepped into this morass in January. He has to compete with Urban Meyer at Ohio State and Brady Hoke at Michigan with a program that has been stripped of its scholarships and its tradition.

But O’Brien is not a victim. We already know who the victims are — those who were violated by Sandusky while Paterno and Penn State administrators stood idly by.

That’s why the fine is not nearly steep enough. In addition to the $60 million, the NCAA should have mandated that Penn State pay a percentage (10 percent, say) of its football revenue into the endowment for the next 20 years.

If the Penn State community gets to keep benefiting from having major college football, so should the types of people it failed to protect.

The reality is that no matter what the NCAA imposed on Penn State, it wasn’t going to please everyone.

Anything short of demolishing Beaver Stadium, abolishing the football program and deflating every football in a 100-mile radius of State College, Pa., was going to be too lenient for those who feel there is not a punishment on earth suitable enough for Penn State.

Those who feel the NCAA is overstepping its bounds by disciplining a school for criminal violations will feel a dangerous and unnecessary precedent has been set.

The former group doesn’t understand the NCAA is in the business of semi-pro athletics, not higher education.

The latter group doesn’t understand that moral dereliction of duty and lack of institutional integrity need to be punishable by an enforcement manual that features a four-letter word more important than NCAA — life.

“We cannot look to NCAA history to determine how to handle circumstances so disturbing, shocking and disappointing,” said NCAA president Mark Emmert in a statement. “As the individuals charged with governing college sports, we have a responsibility to act. These events should serve as a call to every single school and athletics department to take an honest look at its campus environment and eradicate the ‘sports are king’ mind-set that can so dramatically cloud the judgment of educators.”

The NCAA was never going to impose the “death penalty” on Penn State.

It’s doubtful the NCAA ever will use it again. The results were so disastrous at Southern Methodist University, the only school to receive the sanction. A recidivist rule violator, SMU had the guillotine drop on its program for the 1987 season and decided to sit out the entire 1988 season as well because the NCAA restricted it to seven games that year.

A perennial top-20 program in the early and mid ’80s, SMU never has been the same.

Although the program has turned the corner in the last three seasons under coach June Jones, the repercussions of that ruling reverberate 25 years later.

Putting Penn State in the (death) penalty box for a year was a Pandora’s box the NCAA didn’t want to open.

The NCAA wasn’t going to risk alienating its constituents, who would have to redo their schedules, or its television partners, who would have lost content, just to claim higher moral high ground. We’re still talking about the NCAA here, after all.

Not as jarring as the death penalty, the sanctions are still onerous.

The NCAA has done what Penn State would not — stand up and do the right thing.

Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at cgasper@globe.com.
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