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Published: Tuesday, 7/24/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

NCAA's gut check was gut or 2 short

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

Early Sunday morning, Penn State University dismantled the statue of Joe Paterno on the east side of Beaver Stadium.

Early Monday morning, the NCAA dismantled Penn State football.

One was basically a cosmetic cleansing, a gesture to save some face and buy some national goodwill. One was a high-and-tight fastball, a purpose pitch that sent a devastating message to the Nittany Lions, in particular, and a clear one to every other college athletics superpower listening in.

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You lost your way. You lost your moral compass. You lost your university to a sport. We'll help you get it back, but the price is high, very high.

Great damage was done Monday. Far greater damage was done by Penn State's most powerful officials, including the longtime football coach, for more than a decade by pandering to a pedophile to protect the football program's and the school's elite reputations.

How'd that work out?

Those reputations are trashed now and, interestingly, it was the NCAA that dealt the mortal blow.

It could have issued the death penalty, a suspension in play for one or more seasons. Arguably, what it did was worse. The Lions might have lived with death. This could be harder.

But don't get caught up in the minutiae. The $60 million fine, payable at $12 million annually for five years and earmarked for child abuse services, is just money. The 111 wins since 1998 that were vacated is just a number. That it was perhaps the final scalpel slicing into Paterno's legacy, well, who other than his brainwashed apologists should care?

"We Are -- Penn State."

None of that matters. The extensive scholarship losses matter. The four-year postseason bowl ban matters. The NCAA-tendered invitation for football players to leave the school and be immediately eligible to compete elsewhere matters. The corrective procedures matter too, although they were mostly strings of big words that are works in progress.

Is it fair to former players? Is it fair to current players and coaches? Is it fair to Penn State's fans? No, no, and no. But the NCAA's habit of penalizing the past by punishing the future is nothing new. The immediate future for Penn State football is surely bleak. Committed recruits are jumping ship. Some current players, most likely the best of them, may do the same. Recruiting classes affected by all or part of the postseason ban will be hit and miss.

Big Ten football takes a hit too, because this was one of its flagship programs. The Nittany Lions should soon sink into competitive irrelevance and, baby, when you're looking up at Indiana and Minnesota, at Illinois and Purdue, you've got serious issues.

Much will be made of the NCAA doing an end-around on its normal investigative practices and infractions enforcement procedures to jump into this fray minus due process and by taking the Freeh Report as gospel.

I take no issue with that. If ever there was a case that called for the governing body of college athletics to govern, even on the fly, this was it. But the Freeh Report named the names. The NCAA would not, citing ongoing legal cases. On a day it dispatched what it called a gut check to colleges and their athletic departments, NCAA president Mark Emmert came up a gut or two short.

Former Penn State president Graham Spanier was a big shot in the NCAA hierarchy. Emmert was asked to lend some perspective. He refused. It was his one weak moment on a day the NCAA showed uncommon strength.

They threw everything but the kitchen sink at Penn State. If you feel it was unfair, remember that Jerry Sandusky's victims would have thrown that too.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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