Penn State: Worse Than Death

by Bob Schwartz

There is a theme in crime and horror fiction in which someone is not killed, but is instead punished by being allowed to live and witness the degradation and demise of all that he has loved and built.

That is exactly what happened for alumni, fans and boosters, with this morning’s announced sanctions against Penn State. In advance of the announcement, some speculated that the NCAA would be creative in its punishments and that in the end Penn State might actually wish for the “death penalty” of a cancelled season of football.

Done and done.

Every current Penn State football player is free to play elsewhere this season and in future. If he is on scholarship, he can choose to stay at school but never play, and he will still receive his scholarship. Current recruits are free to commit to other colleges. Four years of no post-season play assures that first-rank players are unlikely to play at Penn State. Scholarships will be cut back. And the all-time winning record of Joe Paterno has been toppled, just like his statue, by the vacating of all team wins from 1998 to 2011.

When Penn State fields a team this year, it will be a spectacle. The team will be bereft of talent, a ghost of its gloried self. Lose or win, it will perform under fifty shades of ignominy. Even now, there may be someone at the school thinking that Penn State might be better off volunteering to take the one year break that the NCAA did not impose. That dramatic step won’t happen, but it might help convince the very skeptical—who believe that the reprioritizing of college football is beyond the reach of the most well-meaning and contrite—that Penn State really gets the magnitude of what is wrong, and that it can be a reluctant role model for a better next generation of college athletics.