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July 18, 2012
With the release of the independent report from former FBI director Louis Freeh last Thursday, the sex abuse scandal at Penn State moved into a new phase. Call it the accountability phase.
Now that the facts are known - at least enough facts to come to reasonable conclusions - it's time for officials at Penn State to be held responsible for what they did, and didn't do. Likewise, the time has come for all those connected to Penn State football to let go of the image of late head coach Joe Paterno as a saintly figure and accept him (publicly) for the flawed man that he truly was.
Instead, many connected to the university - and especially Paterno's family - have decided to take a scorched earth approach. They have hunkered down in Happy Valley, and are apparently determined to emerge from one of the worst scandals in American sports history unscathed.
That can't be allowed to happen. It's a moral imperative that Penn State football, the fa?e created by Paterno and the child molester Jerry Sandusky, be dismantled and forced to rebuild from the ground up. The only organization with the power to ensure this happens, like it or not, is the NCAA.
Some members of the media are calling for the NCAA to show restraint, and they have a point. The NCAA infractions committee has had its share of problems, and seems to hand out sanctions haphazardly at times. ("Lack of institutional control" is a phrase that Illinois fans got to know quite well back in the day).
But this case is different. At the very time when the NCAA should push the envelope and stretch their authority as far as it can go, up goes the yield sign. Why?
I'm not advocating the death penalty for Penn State, per se. And though I'm angry, I'm not out for blood. The criminal courts will take care of the guilty, and the civil courts will make sure that Penn State pays, literally, for what happened in their midst.
What I would like to see is a strong message delivered. A message that says living, breathing human beings - and especially the helpless children who were Sandusky's victims - count more than big time college athletics. I want a declaration of our values; a punishment that not only fits the crime, but addresses the twisted culture that allowed those crimes to occur.
Which takes us back to that accountability phase that I referred to:
Cancel the Nittany Lions 2012 football season. Take away all new football scholarships for three years. No television or bowl appearances during that same period, and no Big Ten championship games.
Penn State has 12 opponents on their schedule for the upcoming season, including a date with Illinois in Champaign on Sept. 29. Finding games to replace Penn State would be difficult for those 12 teams, and the logistics of organizing the rescheduled games would be nightmarish. But not impossible. It would require some folks to jump through a few hoops. That's not too much to ask.
For current Penn State players who are caught up in this mess through no fault of their own, the NCAA should make the transition as seemless as possible. Allow Penn State players to either transfer to another school and be immediately eligible, or sit out in 2012 and return to the field for the Nittany Lions the following season without losing a year of eligibility.
One caveat to these proposed sanctions. Penn State should have to show that they are willing to clean house and start from scratch, or face harsher punishment. A culture of repentance has to take hold in the school's administrative offices, athletic department, and on the board of trustees.