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Published: Wednesday, 7/25/2012


Painful penalty

To loyalists of Pennsylvania State University, the bitter consequences that befell their school this week were more of a "death penalty" than anyone could have imagined a year ago.

But the ugly revelations of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse case and the damning details of the Freeh report made it necessary for steps to be taken, beyond the penalties of the courtroom, against a university culture and power structure that put its reputation and sports program above the safety of children.

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Sandusky is the former assistant football coach who, after a state grand jury investigation, was convicted last month of 45 counts of sexual abuse involving 10 boys. A report this month after an independent investigation by former FBI director Louis Freeh said that the late head coach Joe Paterno was part of an active agreement to conceal Sandusky's predatory behavior, some of which occurred on university property.

On Sunday, the statue outside Beaver Stadium of the once-sainted Mr. Paterno was removed and stored under orders of university President Rodney Erickson. The next day, the National Collegiate Athletic Association imposed sanctions of unprecedented force.

The NCAA punishment does not amount to the so-called death penalty -- the suspension of the football program. That remains the best way to send a direct and unmistakable message, not only to Penn State but to every other college, that young people's education and advancement must take precedence over sports.

Even so, the severe penalties will cripple football at Happy Valley for a decade or more. Penn State must pay $60 million to fund programs for victims of child abuse, forgo postseason play for four years, give up football scholarships, and forfeit its 111 wins between 1998, when university officials became aware of allegations against Sandusky, and 2011.

Players who are now enrolled will be free to transfer to other schools. Those who stay can keep their scholarships without having to play.

These painful measures will impose a needed course correction on the program. They should dethrone the cult of personality that blinded university officials from doing what was right -- acting to keep children from harm.

The NCAA also has a lesson to learn. It cannot abide the growing American mania, driven by dollars and profit, that infects college sports. It creates coaches who stay too long, universities that lose sight of priorities, and boosters who mistake amateur athletics for a minor-league version of the pros.

The association must be more proactive in reversing an insidious culture that threatens to elevate sports, particularly in Division I schools, above the true mission and purpose of a college. That culture has cost Penn State dearly.

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