On the day after the statue of a coach that stood for so much good but now is being portrayed as something far different, the program that Joe Paterno built was rocked to its very foundation.
The NCAA, citing the Freeh Report (paid for by the very college that itself was the center of the investigation) and a “thorough investigation” handed down what could be argued as their harshest penalties. They did so against a football program that for so long was the pride of the institution.
I sat in my office with a cup of coffee and a feeling of impending doom like knowing that you are about to get punched in the stomach yet can do nothing about it. Like many others, I knew the words that would come out of NCAA president Mark Emmert would be ones that no Nittany Lion fan wanted to hear but there I sat as the bombs were dropped on the university, then the football program and finally in a move to make sure that even in death there is no respect, they vacated 111 wins from Coach Paterno.
Fifteen minutes after the conference started, much like successful military strikes, we were left standing in the midst of rubble, lost dreams and struggling to see how we move forward. How will recruits be brought in to play in Happy Valley for the foreseeable future? How does Coach O’Brien and his staff handle things moving forward?
My first reaction was much like the one I had when news first broke about Sandusky and that disbelief followed by anger and then as the reality of it set in, sadness.
The disbelief came in the form of hoping it was simply a bad dream that had me living my life as normal but having something awful happen to something that has been a part of my entire life. I struggled to grasp that a man so respected could do such unspeakable things and the fact that it was done by someone who was once on the Mount Rushmore of the Penn State football program was incomprehensible. Now, the disbelief comes in the form of seeing a program decimated, not in years or months, but seemingly in minutes.
Four years of non-postseason football is enough to reset the program for at least seven years. Imagine being a senior in high school looking at places to play college football and seeing Penn State knowing that you will not play for a national title, much less the Big Ten title or even a pre-Christmas bowl game that so many pundits scoff at each year. Add to that the loss of forty scholarships over four years starting in 2014 and it’s easy to say that Penn State football will be irrelevant for the next decade in the national scene.
Oh, you also have the matter of the current players transferring out and the de-commitment of recruits. It’s being reported by several outlets that Silas Redd was inundated by major colleges, the biggest name being USC, to leave the Nittany Lions immediately. The NCAA has given players that right. Kidney shot, bang!
Someone pointed out that Penn State should be happy they didn’t get the death penalty. Really? A year without football, perhaps two? Even the four years that reportedly would have been given had Penn State balked at signing off on the agreed punishment. And I don’t believe for a second that a four-year death penalty would have been levied. With a “death penalty” at least with that you could work around it and the sentence would have a period at the end. As it stands now, this seems less like a death penalty and more like an act of vengeance against not only the university and the football program but also its fans, players and the community around the campus that now stand as collateral damage.
The severity of the penalties don’t make sense yet to me with those named in the Freeh Report and Sandusky’s criminal trial, which the NCAA claims to have used to aid their unprecedented decision, have all been removed from the program including one who will serve their life in prison and another who is buried in a grave overlooking a less than Happy Valley. The others have either been indicted or likely will be indicted for their role in a shameful act of humanity (or lack thereof). The penalties are overwhelming and to take nothing away from the victims of an evil man but does dropping “a nuclear bomb”, as Joe Schad of ESPN called it, on Beaver Stadium make all their pain and suffering go away? I am not trying to be cold or callous in any way, just trying to understand.
To the NCAA, your point has been made. It could have been made had your sanctions been made in such a manner that made sense, not only to those of us who bleed blue and white but even to those with no connection to the school. To the new sheriff, Mark Emmert; please remind us what NCAA stands for again. Last I checked, it stood for National Collegiate Athletic Association and the last time I checked, the actions of those involved in the “scandal” were criminal and were being handled by both federal and state law enforcement agencies. No player was involved nor was any current coach or administrator. I am missing the key part… athletics.
I hoped that this piece would serve as a way of cleansing me of this cocktail of emotions but now I find that I have only added more emotion. Then again, isn’t that why college football is so popular on many campuses around the country in the fall? Its emotion that makes things great and makes us do things. Sometimes emotion gets the best of us and we regret our actions later. Unfortunately for the players, coaches and fans at Penn State, it’s the actions of others that have created such great emotion. The NCAA seems to have acted on those same emotions because their decision feels so damn personal.
Forever Penn State. Forever Proud.