Penn State football deserves a one-year suspension

Jul 12, 2012, 8:47 AM | Updated: Jul 15, 2012, 8:11 pm

By Mike Salk

“This is not a football scandal,” wrote Joe Paterno. “[It] should not be treated as one.”

It is a final posthumous message from the disgraced coaching legend and it speaks loudly, though not in the way I’m sure it was intended.

After former FBI Director Louis Freeh released his extensive report into the way Penn State University officials handled the knowledge that they had a sexual predator in their midst, it is now clear to me: The NCAA must act to punish the university in the strongest way possible.

This is a football scandal in the worst imaginable way.

The NCAA has punished schools for not reporting free tattoos and selling swag earned at bowl games. It has declared a “lack of institutional control” for such important crimes as lack of proper staffing in a tennis department.

This scandal is the opposite. It shows too much institutional control — or too much power concentrated in the office of the football coach.

“In order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity,” the report reads, “the most powerful leaders at the university — Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley — repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky’s child abuse.”

In other words, the culture at Penn State dictated that football and the school’s reputation came first, and the safety of children who were being tortured came further on down the line.

“The evidence shows that Mr. Paterno was made aware of the 1998 investigation of Sandusky, followed it closely, but failed to take any action, even though Sandusky had been a key member of his coaching staff for almost 30 years, and had an office just steps away from Mr. Paterno’s.

“At the very least, Mr. Paterno could have alerted the entire football staff, in order to prevent Sandusky from bringing another child into the Lasch Building. Messrs. Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley also failed to alert the Board of Trustees about the 1998 investigation or take any further action against Mr. Sandusky. None of them even spoke to Sandusky about his conduct.

“In short, nothing was done and Sandusky was allowed to continue with impunity.”

If Sandusky worked in the math department, I might believe that this was simply about public relations. If he was an English professor, I’d buy that this was about protecting the school’s image.

But Sandusky was a football coach and his direct boss was the most influential man on campus. His boss not only failed to act in any of the 14 years between learning of Sandusky’s predilections and his death earlier this year, but he had the gall to try to keep the focus on football even after Sandusky’s crimes (and his own role in letting it happen) had surfaced.

That night, students rallied at Paterno’s house and Joe spoke: “We are Penn State,” he told them from his window.

“Let’s all just cheer on that football team this Saturday … and beat Nebraska!”

The crowd went wild. No matter what crimes Sandusky was accused of committing. No matter how little Paterno did to stop it. No thought given to anything other than the most important event happening at Penn State that weekend: a football game against Nebraska.

I love sports. I love sports so much I decided to quit my first career and talk about sports for a living. You love sports too, enough to be reading this blog.

Yet neither of us lives in a culture that puts the importance of a game ahead of moral mandates.

Joe Paterno and the officials at Penn State looked the other way and likely broke the law set forth in the Clery Act (which requires reporting of certain crimes on campus, including ones of a sexual nature).

They also had a moral mandate to look outside of their bubble. They needed to relinquish the control that came with their power. They needed to understand that football pales in comparison to the welfare of children on their campus. They created and fostered a culture that put football first.

And now they need to be punished for that.

The NCAA typically punishes schools for trying to cheat the system or trying to get that extra edge in their quest to win. Yes, the specific crimes may be paying students or looking the other way when those athletes make mistakes, but the reason those crimes are committed is in the pursuit of winning more football games.

The same was true at Penn State, but with truly horrible consequences.

The NCAA gets so much wrong. Here is a chance to get one right.

Punish Penn State. Take away their football team for a year and teach the institution that football can’t stand above the law and it can’t stand above moral mandates.

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Penn State football deserves a one-year suspension