When $60 Million Isn’t Enough
July 24th, 2012

I’m treading into touchy territory this week.  For my disclaimer on this little foray, please see yesterday’s short post.


I don’t suppose there are many occasions in life when $60 million doesn’t seem like enough.  But upon reading the list of NCAA sanctions imposed on Penn State in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky’s conviction and the findings of the Freeh Report, that’s exactly how I felt.

Unfortunately, though, no amount of money can right these wrongs.  Nothing can unrape those boys.  So absent the ability to change the past, incredible focus is being paid to what punishments will be handed down to Penn State in the future.  People went sort of berserk yesterday at what most media outlets, FB posters, and Tweeters seemed to think was quite a stiff penalty.  But I just don’t see it.

Amidst all the discussion of the imposed sanctions the vacating of losses during the Sandusky era seemed to draw the most attention.  Per the NCAA’s official tally, Joe Paterno is no longer the winningest coach in the history of college football.  And I can’t help but respond with the question, ”So what?”  In a conversation on this very topic a friend of mine said something along the lines of, “You have to admit, being stripped of that title… it’s pretty symbolic.”  And I said, “You’re absolutely right.  It’s symbolic.  It doesn’t actually mean anything.”  Paterno isn’t even still alive to suffer whatever humiliation might have come from having his record stripped away.  So why bother?  Why not focus the sanctions on something that will make a difference moving forward?

With that in mind, I also bristled at the four-year bowl game ban and scholarship reductions.  Bill O’Brien and whichever Nittany Lions don’t head for the hills* will now pay the price for the hideous acts of Sandusky and the inexcusable complicity of Paterno and others.  Ineligibility for bowl games doesn’t even come close to being as damaging as what Sandusky’s victims endured.  Not only is it a trivial punishment when compared with the crime, but it is inflicted on people who weren’t even implicated.

As for the fine, $60 million is one year’s worth of football program revenue for Penn State.**  One year.  That’s all.  It seems like a drop in the bucket, doesn’t it?  I am thankful that the NCAA mandated that the $60 million must be spent on child sex abuse and awareness programs.  But given that, why stop at $60 million?  Why not $100 million?  Why not $300 million?  Why not mandate that all profits from the football program must be funneled into advocacy programs for sex abuse victims for the next 20 years?

As I socialized my objections to a few people yesterday, someone actually confronted me with a reasonable answer.  That answer was that it’s not the NCAA’s job to inflict the punitive measures for the entire scandal.  That is the job of our legal system and under the jurisdiction of our judicial branch Penn State University will like have millions more in civil damages to pay out to the victims.  The NCAA’s job, on the other hand, is to correct a culture where football was so revered that many people opted to knowingly allow multiple boys to be raped over a period of 10+ years rather than to risk so much as a blemish on the spotless sheen of the Penn State football program.  One way to do that is to knock the program down off its pedestal and force the State College devotees to square themselves to a losing team for the next several years.

I can respect that the NCAA isn’t on the hook for administering the full legal ramifications of this crime.  But in light of the severity and duration of Sandusky’s actions; and in light of the casualness with which most Penn State supporters treated the allegationsbefore they were proven in court (fiscal 2011-2012 was PSU’s second highest fund raising year ever), I feel confident that it’s going to take a lot more than a four-year bowl game ban to convince many members of the Penn State community that it was the very thing that their love and idolatry built up into legend that laid the groundwork for this sex abuse scandal to become so widely known and yet still unreported.

Stripping a dead man of wins?  So what.  It’s a hollow gesture at best.

Curtailing scholarships and access to bowl games for four years?  Sandusky raped and abused boys for at least 14 years.

A five year probationary period?  Given the number of people in the Penn State administration who knew about it the probationary period should last for as long as any one of them is still employed by the university.

A $60 million fine?  A drop in the bucket.

People are saying that this collection of penalties somehow adds up to a fate worse than the death penalty for the Penn State football program, but I don’t follow that logic.  Football with limitations is still football.  And knocking the program down a peg or two isn’t the same as knocking it out altogether.  Let me be clear.  Winning football games will never be more important than protecting the health and safety of children. And I’m not sure that the Penn State community fully understands that yet.  That isn’t to say I think everyone at PSU is as deluded as those who were involved in the scandal.  But if even one person thinks that this punishment outweighs the crime, then that’s proof enough for me that the lesson hasn’t yet been learned.


*Permission to transfer for all entering or returning football players was one of the sanctions.

**Well, it was one year’s worth.  I wonder if the program’s revenues will decline in the face of what is almost certain to be a losing team for several years into the future.

7 Responses to “When $60 Million Isn’t Enough”

  1. Bobby Says:

    The NCAA Death Penalty is only a ban of football for one year. Then they are back to playing the game in 12 short months. Had the death penalty been handed down, I feel that you would make just as similar a post about how 1 year is not enough and so on and so forth. Realistically, there is no realy punishment that the NCAA could hand down that would make this seem “right.” The punishment that they gave, which is one of the harshest and swiftest EVER, was the right move by the NCAA in my opinion.

    The real punishment is reserved for the legal system, for which Sandusky is paying and Spanier, Curley and whomever else will suffer.

    The crime that is being punished by the NCAA is lack of institutional control and NOT molestation. That seems to be lost in the shuffle.

  2. Bridget Says:

    As someone who attended a Big Ten school (go Hawkeyes!) my opinion is that the NCAA sanctions were appropriately harsh. Happy Valley will never be the same. An institution has been dismantled. It was dismantled because of the poor decisions by a handful of very powerful people. The message has been made clear – not reporting crimes within an organization is a much worse path than if the embarrassment had been handled appropriately from the first sign of abuse. Football is not bigger than the law, than human decency, than protecting children. I don’t think the NCAA needs to do any more to send this message.

    $60 million fine? $60 million was the football program’s revenue, not profit. Many programs, most likely the smaller sports, will have to be cut to pay that fine. And obviously the football program will not be taking in revenue of that amount for many years, if not decades. This means kids not in the football program will lose scholarships because the athletic department can no longer afford to field a team for their sport. This trickles down to less kids getting college degrees. The fanatics that haven’t been able to understand the severity of the crime and why this is just punishment will not be spending $1000’s a year supporting the football team that they love. This money, which supported football, also supported the university, the athletic department, student athletes and the facilities that served the student body.

    And whether it is an institution of higher learning first, we all know that winning sports programs attract students, especially at large state schools. The caliber of the entire university has been lowered by taking the football team down to the level of Division I, which essentially it has been for the next 5+ years. Penn State is going to be digging out of this hole for probably the next 20+ years. I’m not saying they shouldn’t have to, my point is rather that the punishment is maybe more severe than you are giving it credit for. Taking away bowl games for 4 years ruins recruitment for at least 10 years. The best players will not go to Penn St during the ban and for the years immediately following. The university is going to have to reinvent itself. It is no longer a football institution. They will need to find new ways to raise money and attract students.

    If this happened at my alma mater I’d also be very sad for its future. Football was part of my college culture. Saturday game days are some of my fondest memories. The feeling of pride that comes over you in a sea of 75,000 fellow supporters is exhilarating. The Penn State supporters have the same memories of their team that I have of mine and if it was all taken away (right or wrong) I think I’d also be a little irrational about it; therefore I’m able to cut them a little slack during this devastating period. Their support of Penn State and football does not equate to support of child abusers. They are sad for everything that is lost because of this scandal.

  3. Gale Says:

    Bobby – Perhaps you are right. Eradicating the program altogether sounds harsher, but your point about it only lasting for one year is well taken. I suppose in my mind the death penalty was more akin to a fraternity getting kicked off campus for excessive hazing – they’re gone forever. But the NCAA death penalty is obviously more limited. Given that context I can see where the chosen punitive measures may have a more severe effect. You are right, though, nothing the NCAA could have done would make this seem “right.”

    Institutional control vs. molestation. Yes, the line has gotten blurred, but since Penn State let its own identity become so intertwined with its football program I feel like this is sort of what they signed up for…

    PS – Long time listener, first time caller. Thanks for chiming in!

  4. Gale Says:

    Bridget – Wow. Thanks for this thoughtful response. You make some really fair points; points that would not have occured to me as the graduate of a teeny tiny liberal arts college with a D3 athletic program. Without the context of having attended a D1 school I know that I didn’t properly recognize the effect that the damage to the football program will have on other sports’ abilities to offer scholarships, and on some student athletes’ abilities to pay for college without them. I will also concede that without the context of a D1 education, perhaps my understanding of the severity of the NCAA sanctions against Penn State is more appropriate than I first estimated. As you wrote, “The message has been made clear – not reporting crimes within an organization is a much worse path than if the embarrassment had been handled appropriately from the first sign of abuse. Football is not bigger than the law, than human decency, than protecting children.” If that is indeed true, then the NCAA has done its job. Time will tell.

    Nevertheless, there are a couple of aspects of your response that I take exception to. I fully understand that $60 million was the football programs annual revenues, not profits. But last year – amidst all this scandal – the school raised $208.7 million, more than three times the fine. And that came on top of news from last September (pre-scandal) that the university’s endowment had reached an all-time high of $1.83 billion. In light of those numbers I still contend that $60 million wasn’t enough. Further, the fanatics you mention? The people who don’t understand the severity of the crime or why the school deserves this punishment, I think they are exactly the type of people who will continue to donate to the program. I think it’s the more reasonable people – people who are sad to see the destruction of something they loved, but who understand why it must be so – whose donations will wither away.

    I also disagree that the caliber of the entire university has been lowered. Did the professors suddenly become less knowledgable? Did the dorms and facilities become dilapidated overnight? Many excellent colleges and universities thrive without winning football teams. Smaller schools like Davidson, or Drake, Colorado College are good examples. So are larger state schools like KU. You are right, PSU will have to reinvent itself (and very specifically its revenue model), but I think that is highly appropriate given what came to pass in its previous incarnation.

    Finally, I think one of your last points was key. “…support of Penn State and football does not equate to support of child abusers.” That is important to remember. As you said, football was a big part of your college career and that of nearly every Penn State alumn, and no one should be begrudged those happy memories. Unfortunately for all the Penn State fans out there, their happy memories came with an unjustifiable price tag.

  5. Anna Says:

    A comment on Bridget’s post – the NCAA indicated the money could not come from academics or from the other athletic teams at Penn State. I personally like that the NCAA stated that.

  6. Bobby Says:

    One point in response to Bridget, I believe that the NCAA (or PSU) stated yesterday that the fine will not be paid by or have an effect on the other less revenue generating sports, which is a good thing.

  7. Bridget Says:

    Yea, now that I wrote that I also read that it is not supposed to take away from the other sports… But I do have a good understanding of college athletics and the football team is the revenue-maker, especially at schools that have it engrained in their culture (hence why MU is moving to the SEC this year to take part in that pool of football $). KU counts on basketball, but Penn St is a football school all the way. In the long run this will impact Penn St athletics across the board.

    My brother played Division 1 baseball at a large state school in SC – the athletic program was so heavily supported that they made donations to the univeristy each year. Football teams can get donations from people who would otherwise not be supporting acedemic causes. Smaller colleges have never had this revenue to build their university around. A $60 million fine and the future revenue losses for Penn St are a huge blow. Rightly so deserved, but a major impact.

    I didn’t mean to say that the faculty will be different, but the incoming freshman will not be quite the pick of the litter that they used to get. For the top students that have many choices in their college path this gives a big strike to Penn St. That’s what I mean by the calibur of the university lowering.

    And the crazy fans that support the team and Paterno and can’t accept these revelations? They will not be at games on Saturdays, spending their money, in Happy Valley to watch a D3 team get creamed. That’s what I meant about thier $1000′s of dollars being gone.

    The sanctions against Penn St are quite severe. They send a strong message. The scandal they are being punished for is also quite severe. The football program was put ahead of child abuse and the NCAA send a very strong and appropriate message with its decision.