Penn State Deserved What It Got

The university's football program needed to be reminded what higher education is really about.

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People visit the Joe Paterno statue in State College, Pa.

Opponents of the death penalty often argue that there are fates worth than death, that however awful the crimes of an individual, however much we may want the perpetrator to suffer as the victims did, it can be more painful to endure solitary confinement, or life without parole.

This may well be the case in the NCAA's punishment of Penn State following the sexual abuse scandal. Some—including me—had hoped that the college athletic board would impose what is hyperbolically (and offensively) called "the death penalty," or a ban on the football program for a year or more. Instead, the NCAA imposed something which on paper is less draconian, but in reality has a much better chance of making Penn State and other schools rethink their relationships with their sports programs.

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They fined Penn State $60 million—never enough to make up for school officials' protection of the man who sexually assaulted young boys, but a penalty that hits Penn State hard on one of the chief functions of its storied football team—money. The wins accumulated by legendary coach Joe Paterno, who failed to report the abuse once alerted to it, will be erased from the sports history stats, meaning the late Paterno will no longer be the winningest coach in history. Penn State will be banned from bowl games for four years, making the season more about—gasp!—enjoying the sport itself instead of the ceremony and attention from championships. Its athletic scholarships were trimmed for the next four years, and incoming players could transfer to another school if they like.

The last two penalties are particularly useful, since they will essentially take Penn State down a peg in performance. With fewer scholarships and the possibility of the loss of star players, Penn State isn't likely to do too well against other top-tier teams. That's upsetting to some students and alumni, but it's a humbling prospect. They'll experience college sports like so many other students at teams around the country—a fun activity that is second to why they really came to college, which is to learn and study. We want our presidential candidates to be "in touch" with the so-called "average American," despite the fact that most presidents are a great deal wealthier than the public at large. Penn State is part of the metaphorical1  percent when it comes to sports. Perhaps joining the 99 percent for the next few years will remind them what higher education is really all about.

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