If Any School Deserves the NCAA Death Penalty, It's Got to Be Penn State

If ever a major collegiate football program deserves the so-called NCAA death penalty, it's got to be Penn State. The myth of Joe Paterno and his ethical football program has been blown out of the water, and the least the NCAA can do is put this program out of the misery of college sports fans.

Former FBI director Louis Freeh released a report on the Jerry Sandusky/Penn State child rape scandal yesterday, and it was pretty damning. He concluded that head coach Joe Paterno, athletic director Tim Curley, former school vice president Gary Schultz and former president Graham Spanier knew of Sandusky's pedophilic tendencies as far back as 1998, but did nothing because they were more concerned with protecting the school from bad publicity than they were with protecting children.

The report states the four concealed information from authorities and interfered with legal investigations into Sandusky's activities. Even after Sandusky was allowed to retire by the university, the school still gave him full and complete access to the school facilities where he continued to abuse children. And school employees stated that they failed to report incidents in which children were raped because they feared Paterno would fire them.

Paterno is dead. Sandusky is in jail. Schultz and Spanier no longer have their jobs. Paterno's legacy is destroyed. The school and others are facing civil lawsuits from the children and parents which will likely cost Penn State millions of dollars. But is this enough?

The only appropriate remedy has to be the so-called death penalty, which prohibits a school from competing in a given sport for up to two years. A school that conceals a child rapist in order to protect the reputation of the head coach and the football team needs to be hit with the death penalty. And if the school never recovers from the death penalty, like many have argued that SMU has never recovered from its turn, well, so what?

The NCAA has let numerous schools skate away from the death penalties in recent years. Schools like USC, Alabama, Memphis and Miami have flaunted rule after rule after rule knowing the only punishment they'll get is a probation stripping them of scholarships, or prohibiting them from appearing on television or going to a bowl game. Memphis's run to the NCAA Final Four has been wiped from the books. But has that really stopped any of the abuses of college sports?

Kentucky had no qualms with hiring John Calipari despite the sanctions he caused for Memphis because all that mattered was winning the national title. But would Kentucky be so quick to hire Calipari if Memphis basketball was hit with the death penalty instead? And USC was so scared off by the sanctions it received from the NCAA that it replaced the ethically impaired Pete Carroll with the ethically impaired Lane Kiffin. Does one think UTEP basketball would have hired USC's ethically impaired former men's basketball coach Tim Floyd if USC had been hit with the death penalty?

Should the discussion really be about whether a program can or cannot recover from the death penalty anyway? Shouldn't the discussion be "If this doesn't deserve it, then what does?"

Penn State thought its football program was more important than reporting a child rapist. Is this a football program that deserves to exist? And if so, then how is this not worse than what SMU did? SMU just paid players to play college football. They didn't allow a pedophile to roam the sidelines.

But what about the current players? Do they deserve to be punished? Isn't that what Penn State's been arguing since they learned about Sandusky in 1998? They covered up everything for the good of the football program, and the good of the program meant that nothing would happen to the football program so that players could keep playing. The school actively sought to cover this up since 1998, saying in 2001 that this was a problem that could be "assessed down the road."

Is concern about the players really where the concern should be placed? If Penn State gets the death penalty, players can transfer to other schools. They can also stay at Penn State and be students. Shouldn't the concern be with the children who were raped and molested by Jerry Sandusky because Penn State and the football program thought their reputation was more important?

SMU got the death penalty for paying football players. Penn State's actions are far, far worse than anything SMU did. If ever a school deserves to be hit with it, if ever a school allowed a football program to run rampant, if ever a football program was corrupt and evil, it's the Penn State football program. And if Penn State never recovers from the death penalty, like SMU has never supposedly recovered, is that really a bad thing?

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John Royal is a native Houstonian who graduated from the University of Houston and South Texas College of Law. In his day job he is a complex litigation attorney. In his night job he writes about Houston sports for the Houston Press.
Contact: John Royal