Penn State’s Self Inflicted “Death Penalty”

By Jeremy Sickel

Dealth Penalty: Noun: death as punishment for a crime
The “death penalty” is the popular term used for the NCAA’s power to ban a school from competing in a sport for at least one year. It is the harshest penalty that an NCAA member school can receive. The most notable instance of it being used is the SMU scandal that rocked the institution and college football in the mid 1980s. After already having been placed on probation five times since the 1974 season (most of any school in Div. 1-A over that period), the school was levied the harshest of penalties ever seen in college sports when then player Scott Stopperich blew the whistle about allegations that players were still being paid. SMU lost two full seasons of competition (1988 was their choosing due to lack of being able to field a team) and was hit with hefty scholarship cuts and limitations to the coaching staff and recruiting. The school has never regained its foothold as the respected college football program they once were.
Although the NCAA has no grounds to step in and administer any sort of punishment on Penn State University just yet, given the recent sex scandal that has taken the entire country by storm, it seems the University has begun the process of imposing its own “death penalty” of sorts.
The build up over the years leading up to the events that have transpired over the last few days indicated that an apocalyptic shift was due to take place, and that event happened on Wednesday night. The University’s Board of Trustees announced that Head Coach Joe Paterno and President Graham Spanier would be fired from their posts immediately; this after Paterno, earlier in the day, announced he would finish out this season and retire on his own terms.
I am not here to question what needed to happen or who needed to go, but I am making the proclamation that the events that took place last night – the culmination of years of cover ups, secrets, wrong doing and inexplicable acts of sexual deviance – will prove itself to be a sharp 180 degree turn for the University and its success on and off the field.
Penn State has done, and will continue to do, what is necessary to wipe their hands clean of this mess, if that is even possible. What that will also do is create a situation similar to a self-inflicted death penalty in terms of their athletics, most notably the football program. Joe Paterno is Penn State University and his dismissal will do nothing to change that, but without his presence, in addition to the scandal, all the smiles in Happy Valley will quickly turn upside down.
Unlike the SMU situation, Penn State’s football program will continue to exist. They won’t lose scholarships and their ability to coach and recruit will not be restricted by NCAA sanctions. But this certainly does not mean that the road taken in an attempt to maintain Penn State’s normal standard of excellence will be as straight and narrow as once before.
They will play football, but the quality of player they attract will diminish. Do you not think that parents will do their best to keep anyone with relation to Penn State out of their home on recruiting trips? Do you think that parents will let their child go on a visit where they stay overnight at a place plagued with such calamity? The University will clean house and, internally, get back to where they once were, but from an outsider’s perspective it will take much more than a few firings to clean up the reputation that has been stained.
With all of the extra work involved, the on-field product will be squandered, making it much more taxing on the coaching staff to produce a winner, something that Penn State and everyone in its family are used to. For those worried solely about Athletics, this scandal will, in turn, begin to dampen their expectations and undoubtedly tighten up some wallets as well.
Life will go on at Penn State University, but like the lives of everyone involved – from the victims, to the sick individuals directly responsible for the alleged acts, the whistleblowers, those that did not say a word, and the students and athletes attending the school – everything changes from this point forward. As outsiders, we don’t have an inkling of all the different layers this story has yet to produce. More news will break, more secrets will be told, and more lives will be ruined. But last night’s decision by the Board of Trustees to fire Joe Paterno, the face of the University, served as its self inflicted “Death Penalty.”
Contact Jeremy at and follow him on Twitter @kcpopflyboy
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