Nor is it the sign of evil or even willfully negligent coaches and administrators in all cases. It is clearly the product of a broken system, one in which the two most popular (and lucrative) sports have out-grown a place on campus. The business model no longer makes much sense. It's the equivalent of the most sanctimonious church running the most raucous speakeasy out of its basement at this point. And Emmert, who is well-paid and well-regarded because he heads said church, can't help but enjoy the money and fame that comes with both sides of his duplicitous role.
The NCAA has long punished the wrong people. A group of young men who’d endured the difficult times at Penn State, no doubt become friends with teammates and other students and, most importantly, began their academic pursuits will now be forced to scatter or play for a diminished program. All because of decisions made by Penn State leaders when those players weren’t old enough to first learn how to tackle.
NCAA spokespeople like to say this is inevitable; if a school allows a coach to misbehave, it must suffer some consequence so as to dissuade imitators. Yes, the coach is usually gone and hardly hurt by the punishment. Sure, yanking scholarships merely means that the sort of fringe athletes – the special teams guys, the practice squad warriors – who actually want to play ball and study will suddenly be without a scholarship to their chosen school. But something must be done. Justice! Justice! Justice!
And then, after a few difficult years, the program returns to where it was, another cog in an enormous economic engine that so often thwarts the stated goals of any reputable institute of higher learning. You can be sure that this will happen with the Nittany Lions. The foundation of the narrative is already being poured; the true Penn State fans will stick with this team through its darkest days, you’ll hear, and winning – with honor – will be all the more satisfying when it returns. (This happened with Kentucky basketball years ago, and Indiana basketball more recently.)
And it will be. Except for the part where Penn State is once again serving as a minor league team for the NFL, employing players paid with “scholarships” that too often end up being worth less than they should. How many hyper-competitive athletes dedicating 20 or 30 or 40 or 50 hours to football actually have time to fully engage in their studies? And how many aren’t pushed into some mushy major consisting of cake classes?
The whole system of college football (and men’s basketball, for that matter) is broken. Having multi-million dollar corporation/teams integrated with an athletic department otherwise engaged in true amateur competition simply does not work. Having those teams try to mesh with a university, what with all those professors and administrators who might have their own set of demands on “student-athletes,” is untenable. Though it would require sea change, there needs to be a drastic adjustment to the way young athletes in these two sports are able to train for their possible profession. Forcing them to attend college – and forcing those colleges to operate minor league teams -- is unfair at this point.
As I’ve written before, it didn’t faze me to discover just how rotten the culture at Penn State was.
But it has come time to point out that Penn State is the perfect protagonist in a fable with broader lessons. It was the school that too often was portrayed as being most above reproach, as a glossy testament to the successful merger of high-level athletics and scholarly pursuit. Its hard fall has shaken an alumni base of 500,000 and repulsed the common sports fan everywhere.
And it has also allowed Penn Staters a chance to turn focus away from football. To point out that, even if you went to every single game and spent all your lunches debating whether Paterno preferred the half-back dive or off-tackle play, football was such a minor part of your experience at college. Yes, fans and students took pride in a successful football team. They certainly puffed their chests out when they thought Joe Paterno did things the "right way."But football was a diversion, Paterno a distant, charismatic figurehead that might as well have been a movie character for all our actual interaction with him. The real work being done at Penn State happens during the week and is carried out by thousands upon thousands of professors and advisers.
That any college might endeavor to be "known for its football team" or to attract students based on a few games each fall is sad.
The lesson Emmert needed to send was not that misbehaving would cause you to suffer more losses. That, after what happened to those boys, shouldn't even be in the discussion. This was bigger than what happens on the field.