It makes sense that the worst scandal in sports history would result in the biggest set of penalties in sports history. The list of sanctions levied by the NCAA against Penn State was announced Monday morning by NCAA president Mark Emmert. The rulings came a day after the statue of Joe Paterno and the wall behind it had been removed.
Here's a list of the sanctions in the order of how painful they might be on the Penn State football program. Let's start with the least damaging.
VACATING OF 112 VICTORIES (1998-2011) There is but one reason for this penalty. It is to diminish Joe Paterno's college football coaching legacy as the winningest FBS coach. (Paterno drops from #1 with 409 total victories to #12 with 298.) It is painful if you are a huge Paterno fan or played at PSU during those years, but in the grand scheme of things, this penalty is largely symbolic. The games have already been played, trophies have been awarded, fans have celebrated and Beaver Stadium has been packed with adoring fans during those 14 years.
Question: Will the losses during that time also be erased from PSU's record?
$60 MILLION FINE Even though this is a boat load of money ($12 million a year for five years), this directive may not be too harmful to PSU football. Why? Because Penn State has donors with very deep pockets. BTW, the money is to go to an endowment for "external programs preventing child sexual abuse or assisting victims and may not be used to fund such programs at the university." (It's unclear as to who will be in charge of all that money.)
$13 MILLION IN LOST BOWL REVENUE This estimated four-year loss in bowl revenue will affect the overall football fund, but again, donors will likely ease the pain. These moneys are to go "to established charitable organizations in the Big Ten communities dedicated to the protection of children."
FOUR-YEAR POSTSEASON BAN This is where the penalties start to really hurt. The postseason ban will result in even more lost revenue for the school, but more importantly, it is going to make it much harder to recruit talented players to come to Happy Valley. And with the loss of talent, there are bound to be some ugly seasons ahead for the Lions. Losing seasons usually result in a significant reduction in ticket demand and attendance. Fewer fans on game day means less revenue for the city and its businesses and will result in less tax revenue for the city and state.
SCHOLARSHIP REDUCTION Now the noose tightens. For four years beginning in 2014, Penn State will be limited to an initial total of 15 scholarships a year with a limit of 65 total scholarships in any one year. That's 20 fewer than the rest of the D-1 programs. To put this in perspective, PSU will be playing with roughly the same number of scholarship players as D-1AA teams like Cornell, Harvard, Yale, South Dakota State, Holy Cross, Appalachian State and one of this year's Husker nonconference foes, Idaho State. Again, ugly seasons are bound to happen.
TRANSFER OPTION The noose tightens even further. In a show of compassion for the PSU players, the NCAA is allowing any Lion player who wants to transfer to do so without having to sit out a year or lose any eligibility. However, in a display of unity this week, a group of Lion players pledged their loyalty to the football program and will remain at Penn State. With fall camps soon beginning throughout the country, time is of the essence for the PSU players.
STAY PUT? If you are a Penn State junior or senior this year, it might make sense to stay put. But the freshmen, the sophomores and the 2013 commitments, they may want to seriously think about playing elsewhere. Can you imagine players wanting to play for a losing program? And if you are a future star running back or quarterback, do you really want to play for a team that will likely make you run for your life every play? I didn't think so.
ASSISTANTS And what about the coaches -- especially the assistants who are looking to further their coaching careers? It's hard to imagine anyone, no matter how loyal to the PSU football program, wanting to be part of a losing program. And if there is a high turnover of assistants, the lack of continuity could have a major impact on recruiting.
BOWL GAME CRICKETS? First-year head coach Bill O'Brien, in an attempt to lure his players into staying, is telling them that despite the four-year bowl ban, the players who remain at PSU will be playing, in what he describes as "six or seven bowl games a year in front of 108,000 fans." He's referring, of course, to the home games the players would have at Beaver Stadium. But how long will it be before the fans get tired of losing? How long will it be before the crickets are louder than the crowd?
Even though PSU avoided the dreaded "death penalty," the Penn State Nightmare won't be going away any time soon. With all the ensuing civil lawsuits, it may be decades before Penn State returns to normalcy.
And Penn State had better be squeaky clean for years to come. Even the hint of another scandal could be devastating to a Penn State program trying to heal.