On College Football

Penn State punishments missed the mark

Penn State coach Bill O' Brien will have to deal with the repercussions of the NCAA’s punishments for many years.
Gene J. Puskar/AP/File
Penn State coach Bill O' Brien will have to deal with the repercussions of the NCAA’s punishments for many years.

The ongoing discussion in college football is basic: Find a way for the punishment to match the crime committed by NCAA institutions.

Example 1, of course, is Penn State, which was, by almost everyone’s opinion, hammered by the NCAA for its lack of institutional control in the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.

No one argues that Penn State should have been penalized. No one argues the punishment should have been severe. But in almost every case involving violations by NCAA schools there are what former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese calls “unintended consequences.’’


With a reduction in scholarships, a four-year bowl ban, as well as a $60 million fine, Penn State was penalized severely, so severely, in fact, that the consensus among college insiders is that the Nittany Lions program will be reduced to Football Championship Subdivision status for the foreseeable future.

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And that’s the problem. The main characters in the Sandusky case are in jail, facing charges, have lost their jobs, or, in the case of coach Joe Paterno, no longer alive.

By reducing scholarships, by placing a four-year ban on postseason football, the players are being punished.

Other Penn State students involved in secondary roles — band members, cheerleaders, graduate assistants — also will be affected by the loss of prestige and perks associated with big-time college football.

Is it fair? Of course not. But what was the alternative? Punishment had to be handed out.


Almost no one will dispute that money is the driving force behind any talk of conference expansion or new bowl arrangements. It’s money, money, money. So why not get to the heart of the matter in terms of Penn State’s punishment.

Here’s what the NCAA should have done: Put Penn State on probation for four years, but indicate it should go about its business with no reduction in scholarships, no bowl ban, and no penalties of any kind involving the people who run the program.

But the price of this would be not a $60 million fine, but rather $240 million, which is roughly the equivalent of four times the football revenue Penn State brings in each season. Penn State can still play football, but not one dime of football revenue handed out by television, by the Big Ten, by the bowls will go to the university for the next four seasons.

Let the Nittany Lions pay for some bills by keeping the revenue generated by ticket sales and concessions at home games. But that’s it.

By following this approach, Penn State players and students would still enjoy the experience of big-time college football. But the school would bear the financial brunt for an extended period.


Budgets would have to be tightened, cuts in some frills would have to be made. Perhaps tuition costs would have to be raised — which is unfair, but if spaced out, not a deal-breaker.

Would this be the pound of flesh that those who felt that Penn State’s football program should be shut down would have wanted?

No. On the surface, it would seem that life would continue without any consequences.

But with that much of a financial hit, the impact would be felt, and felt for a long time, and it would serve as a lesson to future rule breakers that there might be better ways to do things.

The Sandusky scandal will hopefully never be repeated. It was not the case of paying players or other rules violations that continue to be bent, if not broken, by schools looking for competitive advantages.

But as Maryland coach Randy Edsall said this week, the sad part about this is that so many people were hurt and are being hurt.

Life will go on, at Penn State and at other places around the country as college football begins another season. But there are more clouds on the horizon. Miami is facing serious allegations. Southern Cal is just recovering from penalties. Ohio State is the middle of its punishment.

More unintended consequences will result from NCAA penalties being handed out. More innocent victims will be affected.

Before its next move, the NCAA should step back and think about doing things differently in its punishment phase, and in these days of a tight economy, doing it financially appears most fair.

Mark Blaudschun can be reached at