The NCAA lowered the boom on Penn State today, after an independent investigation concluded that the university’s highest-ranking officers failed to act when they had evidence that a football coach had molested boys.  The school must pay $60 million in fines, forfeit all of their victories from 1998 forward — about the time Penn State officials should have taken action against convicted serial child molester Jerry Sandusky — and be ineligible for bowl games for four years:

College sports’ governing body today suspended Penn State’s football team from post-season bowl play for four years and fined the university $60 million for its handling of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.

The teams also must vacate all wins from 1998 through 2011.

This morning’s announcement by the NCAA stood out as much for its harshness as for the swiftness with which it came. In past scandals at the University of Southern California, Auburn and Ohio State, the association attracted criticism for its slow pace.

The impact of this decision will be felt for a long time.  Usually, when the NCAA imposes these kinds of penalties, they allow scholarship athletes to transfer out without the usual one-year penalty.  Whatever recruiting successes Penn State has had will almost certainly walk out the door, especially younger men who would normally have been playing for bowls in three or four years.  They won’t attract many other candidates during the penalty years either, first because of the lack of visibility for a school that can’t play in a bowl, and conversely because of the high and unattractive visibility of playing for a school that tolerated a molester in order to win championships.  It could be decades before Penn State can compete in football, or perhaps never.

Unfortunately, they won’t be the only ones suffering:

The sanctions could punish more than just Penn State’s football program, which generates windfall profits not only for the university’s other athletic programs but also from the surrounding community.

According to the school’s most recent NCAA financial reports, the football program brings in more than $50 million in profits each year. And home games usher in a brisk business for local hotels and businesses in the otherwise sleepy Happy Valley.

The Happy Valley halcyon days are over, and they may never come back.  Thanks to the involvement of Joe Paterno in the scandal, whose name is synonymous with Penn State championships, their entire tradition has to start from scratch, and it’s not likely to ever have that kind of cachet ever again.

Why didn’t the NCAA put Penn State out of its misery and simply issue the so-called “death penalty” — barring the school from competing permanently in football?  Howard Kurtz reported the NCAA didn’t want to forever penalize people who had nothing to do with the crimes involved:

Perhaps.  However, considering the circumstances, it would have been a healthy reminder that winning shouldn’t be everything in college sports, and that NCAA schools exist to educate and enlighten young men and women — not consign them to predators just to protect their income stream.  Penn State should carefully consider whether to bring back a football program at all, and the rest of the colleges and universities in the NCAA should take this opportunity to rethink their own priorities.

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