Death penalty due Penn State football

A few weeks ago, during the trial in which Jerry Sandusky was convicted for sexually assaulting young boys at Penn State University, it was hard to imagine anything more reprehensible than Sandusky’s actions.

But what’s described in last week’s report from former FBI Director Louis Freeh comes close. The report makes clear that top officials at Penn State — including the late, sainted Coach Joe Paterno — didn’t just ignore Sandusky’s attacks on youngsters. They actively sought to keep news of the attacks hidden to protect the almighty football program.

That’s reason enough for the NCAA to impose the death penalty — a ban on football at Penn State for at least five years.

Key individuals involved in the Penn State coverup are already facing criminal charges. And Penn State will likely pay out millions to Sandusky’s victims through civil actions. Those are appropriate judicial responses to these crimes.

Paterno, who died in January, is beyond any judicial measures. But his once-golden reputation is now beyond tarnished. It’s in the sewer.

The NCAA has different responsibilties than the courts. It must ensure that member schools abide by its rules, its code of ethics and its standards with respect to athletic programs.

Freeh’s report makes it clear that the Penn State coverup served one primary purpose — to protect the football program. Thus it is definitely an athletic issue.

And, while Freeh’s most blistering criticism was for Paterno and three other top officials, he also took aim at the Penn State trustees for not pressing for more information when reports of Sandusky’s actions began to come to light.

One reason they didn’t likely involves Paterno’s status as a near diety on the Penn State campus. Few people, even university trustees, were willing to challenge him.

That’s a large part of the reason it’s so important for the NCAA to impose the most severe sanctions against Penn State. It needs to make clear to other universities that top athletic programs — even those run by seemingly unimpeachable coaches — cannot be the tail that wags the dog. They need institutional oversight. And coaches must understand that protecting their programs doesn’t justify despicable actions.

We realize imposing the death sentence will affect current football players who had nothing to do with the Sandusky case or its coverup, and that’s unfortunate. One possible alternative to avoid that would be for the NCAA to offer Penn State a choice: Allow the football program to continue — without bowl eligibility, of course. But require that all of the money the program makes for the next decade or more go to a fund for young sex assault victims. The football program would essentially become a nonprofit charity instead of a huge revenue generator for the university.

If that’s not acceptable to Penn State, implement the death penalty.


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