They call it the "death penalty," although it's hardly a permanent sanction. It's a punishment under which a college sports program is disallowed from operating for a time—a year, perhaps—because of bad behavior related to the administration of the sports program.
On its face, the Penn State scandal does not appear to be about football. It's a tragic, horrifying story of a pedophile former assistant football coach who raped and abused vulnerable young boys. Jerry Sandusky is awaiting sentencing on 45 counts of child sexual abuse, and Penn State's reputation—along with that of its famous football program and late, legendary coach, Joe Paterno—has been damaged.
That's not enough.
It is a football scandal, even though it didn't involve paying off players or recruits or engaging in other illicit activity directly related to operating the program. If it were only about money, it would be easier to forgive Penn State and its officials. After all, college ball is largely about money, much as the schools try to pretend it's about pride and athleticism and accomplishment alone. And the Sandusky scandal is also about money, since it's clear, as the Freeh report on the episode explains, that Penn State officials were more concerned about protecting the image of the college than protecting the bodies of Sandusky's victims, all young boys from disadvantaged homes.
The Department of Education has the authority to take action, too. The agency can fine Penn State under the Clery Act—named for a young woman who was raped, tortured, and murdered in her Lehigh University dormitory. The act requires colleges and universities to deliver prompt disclosure of safety threats. It's pretty clear that not only did Penn State fail to provide such a warning, but actually looked the other way to avoid bad publicity.
What Sandusky did was unconscionable, disgusting, and criminal. But one could argue—not that it's a defense—that Sandusky and other pedophiles are mentally ill. The same cannot be said for the sane, calculating college officials who protected Sandusky (and the school) at the expense of child victims.
It would be difficult for students to go a year or more without football, and arguably unfair to them, since they had no direct role in the abuse or its cover-up. But perhaps it would remind students and administrators alike of what the college is actually in existence to do: educate people. And there's no better morals education than accepting the rightful punishment for unforgivable behavior.