College Guide


July 23, 2012 5:02 PM Penn State’s Punishment

By Daniel Luzer

So now it’s over. The National Collegiate Athletic Association rendered its decision today about Penn State’s punishment for allowing and covering up Assistant Athletic Coach Jerry Sandusky’s longstanding sexual abuse of children. Penn State will get to keep its football team, but it’s not being let off easily.

According to a piece by Jeremy Roebuck at the Philadelphia Inquirer:

The NCAA assessed the program a $60 million fine, eliminated several scholarships and banned Penn State from postseason play for the next four years. That prompted the Big Ten Conference later Monday to announce that during that period it would withhold the university’s share of bowl game payments - the equivalent of about $13 million a year.
All current student athletes will be offered the opportunity to immediately transfer and begin playing for other schools.

The NCAA also “vacated all 111 team wins between 1998 - the year Penn State administrators first became aware of allegations against Sandusky - through 2011.” This removes Paterno from his position as college coach with the most victories. He won 409 games but under the NCAA decision he will only get credit for 298 wins. The records of Penn State football players on the team between 1998 and 2011 will also be erased.

Penn State also removed the statue of Paterno that has stood in front of the school stadium since 2001.

The Paterno family objected to the decision, saying that “the sanctions announced by the NCAA today defame the legacy and contributions of a great coach and educator without any input from our family or those who knew him best.”

Well, nor should there be any input from your family. Or Jerry Sandusky’s family. Or the families of the victims.

But the punishment is a little odd.

Penn State, after all, did win all of those games between 1998 and 2011. Perhaps by the trick of the rules former Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden has now won the most games in history, but come on. Paterno won 409 games. Bowden won 377. Paterno won more games. One can’t go back and change history like that. This isn’t like a performance enhancing drug, in which the violation resulted in an inappropriate number of victories. It’s not like the sexual abuse caused the school to win the games.

Jordan Weissmann over at the Atlantic points out that even the $60 million fine isn’t that severe. Penn State, unlike most colleges, has a profitable athletic program. Last year Penn State’s annual revenue, in fact, was $72.7 million.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer


  • Crissa on July 23, 2012 6:13 PM:

    The lack of consequences in 1998 could have contributed to the success, however. We'll never know, since they decided to ignore the notoriety of prosecuting sexual abuse for the notoriety of covering up sexual abuse.

  • Doug on July 24, 2012 7:29 PM:

    "It's not like the sexual abuse CAUSED the school to win the games."

    How do you know that? Do you know for a certainty that PSU WOULD have won those games had Sandusky NOT been participating as a member of the coaching staff?
    The NCAA has, rightly in my opinion, considerered ALL wins that occurred after Sandusky was reported to school officials and no action taken, as being tainted. Therefore those wins are considered invalid.
    Whether the "taint" is caused by banned drugs, actions on or off the field by team members or alumni or, in this case, by placing the "good name" PSU football program before the safety of children is immaterial. It's still there.
    How'd that protection of PSU's good name work out, anyway?

  • MW on July 25, 2012 5:40 PM:

    I absolutely agree with Doug. The focus has been seeminly exclusively on the idea that the Paterno and PSU cover-up was to avoid bad publicity for their program and school. It ignores the fact that they kept Sandusky on the coaching staff for that dozen years after they knew what he was and what he was doing. Sandusky was not a tenured professor with essentially a lifetime appointment. I don't know what the time periods of his contracts with PSU were, but his contract must have been renewed multiple times by Paterno and PSU during those 12 years. They could have gotten rid of him. They clearly made a decision that he was important to their program -- more important than the children he was abusing. Those wins should be wiped out of the records. They are tainted by Paterno's and PSU's actions.

  • delfin on July 26, 2012 12:49 PM:

    To be precise, Sandusky 'retired' after the 1999 season, after the 1998 investigation into one of his molestation incidents. He did not have an active role in coaching during the majority of those twelve years.

    However, it's pretty much inescapable that PSU staff and admins (Paterno, McQueary, Schultz, Curley and Spanier specifically, but undoubtably others) knew about Sandusky and not only failed to pursue action with legal authorities, but allowed him to remain a presence on PSU facilities, interact with young boys on campus, hold football 'sleepover camps' on PSU splinter campuses as late as 2009, and otherwise continue to endanger children.

    This is why the timing of the sanctions is important; it distinguishes that PSU is not being punished because of Sandusky's actions. PSU is being punished because of its OWN actions in its refusal to act in any way that might damage the football program and its revenue stream, reputation and recruitment.