Penalties Rock P.S.U.’s Past, Present, Future
By Paul Myerberg // Jul 23, 2012
When given no other option, when an error-prone program shows little sign of remorse, waylays an ongoing investigation or hides pertinent facts and figures, the N.C.A.A. assesses penalties focused on the program’s past, present and future. In this vein, Penn State’s penalties fall right in line with those dropped on U.S.C., a recent transgressor against which the N.C.A.A. levied a series of potentially crippling punishments.
The N.C.A.A. impacts the past by vacating wins; it impacts the present by allowing any current player to transfer without penalty, a wonderful rule, and by levying a postseason ban; it impacts the future by instituting scholarship reductions. Penn State is no different – except in the magnitude of the penalties, which, to cite the buzz word surrounding the ruling over the last 24 hours, were absolutely unprecedented.
Another word: inevitable. The penalties were unavoidable, as were those assessed by the Big Ten. For its part, the league banned Penn State from the Big Ten title game for four seasons and stated that the school will not receive any bowl revenue over the same period.
It’s the scope of those penalties assessed by the N.C.A.A. that stands out. The death penalty wasn’t a viable option for the N.C.A.A., for two reasons: one, the body is fearful of setting a standard, one that would force it to assess the same penalty in any case that trumps Penn State’s down the road; and two, there’s simply too much money on the line – too strong a relationship between the N.C.A.A. and television broadcasters, for example – to simply write a program out of existence.
You can divide the six penalties assessed by the N.C.A.A. into three separate categories: those that alter the program’s past, those that define the program’s present and those that potentially change the Nittany Lions’ future place among the elite programs in college football.
Vacation of wins since 1998. That’s a total of 112 wins; also vacated are the team’s two co-Big Ten championships, one of which, in 2008, led to a Rose Bowl berth. The bigger takeaway, of course, is that this takes 111 career victories away from Joe Paterno – moving him from first on the all-time F.B.S. wins list to fifth, at 298 wins, behind Bobby Bowden, Bear Bryant, Pop Warner and Amos Alonzo Stagg.
$60 million fine. That’s the equivalent to the “approximate average of one year’s gross revenue” created by Penn State’s football program. The fine will be paid over a five-year span into an “endowment for programs preventing child sexual abuse and/or assisting the victims of child sexual abuse.” In addition, the N.C.A.A. ruled that “no current sponsored team may be reduced or eliminated” to fund the fine.
Five years of probation. The N.C.A.A. mandated that the school appoint an independent “Integrity Monitor.” Failure to comply with the standards put forth by the N.C.A.A. would result in even stricter penalties placed upon the university and its football program.
Four-year postseason ban. This period begins with this coming season and runs through the 2015 year. As noted, the Big Ten followed suit by banning P.S.U. from its conference title game – which was already mandated by the N.C.A.A. in its own ruling: Penn State “shall not be eligible to participate in any postseason competition, including a conference championship, any bowl game or any postseason playoff competition.”
Four-year reduction of grants-in-aid. Beginning in 2013 and running through the 2016 season – which adds another year on the ruling, in essence – Penn State will be allotted a maximum of 15 scholarships in each recruiting cycle, down from the usual 25-scholarship allotment. From 2014 through 2018, the Nittany Lions will be limited to no more than 65 scholarship players on the roster.
Waiver of transfer rules and grant-in-aid retention. As written by the N.C.A.A., “Any entering or returning football student-athlete will be allowed to immediately transfer and will be eligible to immediately compete at the transfer institution.” Entering student-athletes include any players who signed in February – the incoming freshmen. Returning student-athletes include any players currently on the roster, from walk-ons to redshirt freshmen to would-be seniors. All can leave today or any point during their four-year careers on campus.
You can see how this completely changes Penn State’s place among the elite programs in college football. It changes Paterno’s stature in the sport; no longer does he hold the most career victories, for starters, though whether you choose to adopt the stance that he didn’t win 409 career games depends on your willingness to ignore what you saw with your own two eyes.
How this really impacts P.S.U., however, and where the ruling truly becomes unprecedented, is in how it defines the program from this point forward. You know that Penn State is going to encounter a terrible patch from here through at least the 2018 season – and this might last beyond 2018, considering the magnitude of the scholarship reductions levied upon the program.
For this coming season, it’s possible that several upperclassmen set for major roles could opt to spend their final season of eligibility at another F.B.S. program – even another program in the Big Ten. Jim Delany ruled that transfers will not be subject to the rule that traditionally forces them to leave the conference altogether.
The Nittany Lions can accept only 15 recruits in this current class; Bill O’Brien and his staff have already gained 12 verbal commitments, though it’s difficult to project how many will stick. From 2014-17, P.S.U. can have only 65 scholarship players on the roster.
Only in 2018 can the Nittany Lions begin recruiting on an even plane with the rest of the country, and it’s easy to see it taking the program at least two additional years to get its depth back to an adequate level.
You begin to understand the unprecedented nature of these penalties when you view them from a distance. In essence, the N.C.A.A. has not only erased a portion of Penn State’s past – vacating wins from 1998-2011, docking Paterno four spots in the record books – but also ensured that the program continue to suffer for its misdeeds for at least another half-decade.
The only losers here are the current players and the staff that signed on to replace Paterno; the Nittany Lions’ roster and O’Brien had no role in the scandal and its cover-up, though they’ll take on the brunt of the fallout. Whether P.S.U. can survive this stretch hinges on O’Brien’s ability to coach up a team that will stand behind the eight ball through at least the 2017 season – like the situation at U.S.C., but tripled.
The Penn State community can take solace in only one fact: it could have been worse. Yes, the death penalty always felt like a long shot. But bad football is better than no football; that’s the silver lining, if one exists. One thing the community cannot do is rail against the penalties themselves – the penalties are unprecedented, but so were the actions that brought them on.
Tags: Big Ten, Bill O'Brien, Jim Delany, Joe Paterno, Mark Emmert, N.C.A.A., N.C.A.A. rulebook, N.C.A.A. violations, Ohio State, Penn State, U.S.C.
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