Penn State Punishment: The NCAA Finally Gets Something Right

Unknown date and location; FILE PHOTO; Penn State Nittany Lions head coach Joe Paterno reacts on the sideline in the 2002 season. Mandatory Credit: Photo By US PRESSWIRE

The NCAA handed down a historic punishment to Penn State football on Monday, a package of sanctions that leaves Joe Paterno's former program crippled for the immediate and distant future. And that's okay.

It's been said all along that the NCAA has no real jurisdiction to hand down punishments in the Penn State case, but Monday morning the punishments came anyway: A four-year bowl ban, 13 years of wins vacated, scholarship reductions and a $60 million fine. And for once, the NCAA got it right.

The cynic in me wants to hate this. If corporations were people, the NCAA could be best personified by Niedermeyer from Animal House. The organization's plagued college sports with tone deaf policy and grandstanding morality for decades, creating a bizarro universe full of zealous reporters, coaches idolized for "integrity" in the face of "corruption," and "dirty" kids whose only crime is getting a piece of the billions in profits that college sports generate every year.


Amy K. Nelson on the Penn State punishments.

Everyone buys in, and it's all to protect the fundamental lie underpinning college sports -- that there's some pure spirit of amateurism at the foundation here, and it's the NCAA's job to keep it alive. What they're protecting instead is an ecosystem that keeps the NCAA's old white men at the top of the food chain.

So, watching them disregard due process like never before to stretch the limits of their authority and go grandstanding again on Monday morning, it's tempting to balk at what's happened here. SB Nation's Spencer Hall sums up this side of the argument pretty nicely over here.

But ... no.

We're talking about a football program that housed a rapist for God knows how many years, and a world-famous football coach and University president who knew about it and did nothing, in part because they wanted to protect the football program. If Mark Emmert and the NCAA didn't cripple the Penn State football program after that -- and Penn State was allowed to carry on as some ambiguous, watered-down version of its former self -- imagine what the message would look like.

Yes, there's this alternate universe in America dominated by a gargantuan economy founded on unpaid labor. And yes, there's a governing board in charge of enforcing irrational rules to keep the whole fanstayland universe clicking along, even though pretty much everyone knows it's corrupt and deeply flawed. But when all these skewed priorities mushroom into something truly evil, well, that's a matter for the real world. That problem's bigger than college sports.

It is and it isn't.

Jerry Sandusky is a problem bigger than college sports. Joe Paterno WAS big time college sports, their piety and hypocrisy wrapped into one neat little package with Coke bottle glasses.

Paterno is the problem writ small and twisted into a nightmare. The punishment here brings no "healing" and offers no "solution" for anything that happened under Jerry Sandusky, Paterno and Graham Spanier at Penn State, but nothing ever would. It happened, and we all just have to sit with that nasty reality forever, remembering it over and over again anytime someone brings up Penn State, Joe Paterno or child molesters.

Within the fantasyland of college sports, though ... when people say that the NCAA overstepped its bounds by punishing a football program that broke no football rules, we have two points:

  • Does the NCAA ever not overstep its bounds? The by-laws mean NOTHING. Anytime the NCAA punishes anyone, we should be insulted because they are no better than Neidermeyer in Animal House, holding mock-trials and "prosecuting" innocent people with completely meaningless code violations.
  • This college sports universe is what we got, though. If you think the NCAA deserves its own version of the Death Penalty, well, you're definitely right. But until then, I'm not sure I have a problem with a formerly-rapist-friendly football program facing a fair reckoning.

The NCAA isn't punishing Penn State for Jerry Sandusky's sex crimes. The NCAA is punishing a football program that became the dictionary definition of "institutional control run amok." The NCAA is punishing an University whose priorities became so skewed that the worst kind of evil was allowed to survive and thrive under the guise of protecting some Grand Experiment.

When you think about what college sports are supposed to stand for and what they actually encompass instead, the NCAA is punishing its own doppelganger -- an institution founded on high-minded ideals and powerful men, gradually transformed into a machine full of greedy, insecure hypocrites whose principal mission was protecting their own grip on power.

The Grand Experiment f**king failed. So even if it becomes a pot-kettle situation when the NCAA gets involved, it's nice to have anyone within the starry-eyed college sports universe acknowledge the failure on record and do their best to kill it at Penn State for the foreseeable future.

If Monday morning's ruling changes Penn State football forever, good. The players can transfer, the fans can learn to cheer for someone else, and the football employees can get jobs elsewhere. And if anyone wants to blame the NCAA for how all this turned out in Happy Valley, they're bullshitting themselves so badly that they're probably not worth convincing. There is protocol and due process to be followed when punishing any school, yeah. But Joe Paterno and Grahham Spanier took comfort in protocol, too, and here we are.

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