More Sorrow at Penn State
As the evil still overwhelms the good at Penn State, the crippling sanctions leveled Monday by the NCAA against the university leaves an entirely different set of victims -- the college football players who were recruited by the then-fabled Joe Pa to become Nittany Lions and are still playing. Not a one of them had anything whatsoever to do with the pedophile scandal that has gripped the entire nation since it was first revealed in November.
The NCAA sanctions were promised to be "unprecedented" and when they were announced yesterday it quickly became apparent they are worse than the "Death Penalty" that was levied on Southern Methodist by the NCAA in 1986. SMU was forced to close its football program down in 1987 but the school opted to go without the next year as well. Then it took the 20 years before the Mustangs could rebuild to finally become bowl eligible in 2009.
At Penn State it is worse. There is a $60 million fine, a four-year post-season ban, a four-year reduction in scholarships, five years of probation, a waiver of transfer rules (allowing current players to go elsewhere and be immediately eligible,) vacating all wins since 1998, and the right to initiate individual penalties after criminal proceedings are decided against the athletic director, a PSU vice president and possibly the university president who has since been fired.
Now come the problems for the innocent and saddened players. Again, none were involved or even knew of the years of sexually abuse by former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky but each must now ask himself the most agonizing question you can imagine of a college athlete. Do you stay and be loyal to a seriously-hampered program or do you bolt to another school where a winning season, bowl games, TV exposure, and possibly a national championship are attainable?
The NCAA sanctions include almost an entire page of corrective clauses that must be followed. The $60 million fine (roughly one year of gross revenues at a "healthy" Penn State) must be paid at a rate of no less than $12 million a year into an endowment that will protect children from sexual abuse and/or be used to help victims like those we are told Sandusky badly harmed over a 15-year period.
Sure, the victims of sex abuse at Penn State, whose names are unknown but who are still carried in prayer by millions each day, are the first concern and it is believed Penn State officials will try to make any amends possible -- with or without the civil suits against the university that are still being filed. This will allow for counseling, psychiatric treatment and anything else known to man, provided in an impossible task of atoning for such horror.
So now we pray for football players themselves, good kids who brought into Paterno's "Winning With Honor" only to see it scrapped from the wall at Beaver Stadium on Sunday as Saint Joe's statue was wrapped in blue plastic and carted away. Bill O'Brien, who was hired as Patero's successor after Joe was fired, has proven to be a wonderful replacement but, with the NCAA announcement, all havoc has broken loose for the current players and incoming freshmen.
Each must make his own decision -- to go or to stay -- but every major college in the country can now recruit any of them and, trust me, all of them will get offered before fall practice begins across the country in about 10 days. Under NCAA guidelines, outside schools must notify Penn State which athletes they are interested in before contacting the actual player but one NCAA school has already faxed the entire Penn State roster to still-stunned PSU officials.
An incoming freshman, Fort Union quarterback Christian Hackenberg, is thought to be one of the most sought and, before Monday's sanctions were known, his father Eric told CBS Sports, ""We're on hold just waiting to see what happens, we don't have any control over it. I think the hardest part, as a father, is the fact that Christian loves Penn State.
"A lot of people have inferences that because we grew up there but it's not," Erick said. "When (Christian) went there, he met the staff and saw the opportunity as a player there and he realized the boxes were checked academically, he fell in love with it. His heart is there.
"When all this happens it's hard. When your heart is into something but things are happening outside of your control, you can still make a decision based upon what's in front of you. He knew there was some stuff, but no one knew in February what was coming."
Much worse, no one knew how bad Monday's bombshell would be. If you multiply Hackenberg's decision by over 100 current athletes, you'll recognize the immense sorrow hanging over Penn State and all the players who once had their hearts to become a Nittany Lion.
Before Monday Penn State was the winningest football program of all time. With the vacated games, Grambling's Eddie Robinson becomes the winningest coach of all time and Bobby Bowden of Florida State is the winningest at the major-college level.
My guess is that it will probably take about 20 years before Penn State can return to college football dominance but, from all that has happened, it is doubtful Penn State will ever fully recover to what was known as Happy Valley.