The NCAA this morning announced near record sanctions against Pennsylvania State University in the wake of the Sandusky child sex abuse scandals. The Penn State football team will be banned from post-season play for four years, and forfeit 40 scholarships. The team will also pay $60 million in fines—equivalent to one year of profits—the athletic department will placed on probation for five years, and former coach Joe Paterno will be stripped of his wins from 1998-2011, removing him from the record books. Players will be free to transfer and immediately play for other schools, and many of the top recruits undoubtedly will.
This represents the most severe sanctions in NCAA history, with the possible exception of SMU, which received the "death penalty" in 1986.
Those who remember the glory days of the UW Huskies in the 1980s and early 1990s know how much sanctions can disrupt a football program. In 1993 the PAC 10 conference docked the Huskies 20 scholarships and banned the team from post-season play for two seasons, provoking coach Don James to retire in protest. The program has arguably never recovered.
Of course Sandusky's crimes were far worse than the type of recruiting scandals that sanctions like these are normally intended to address, but I've got to wonder if they really hit the target. The team's profits subsidize other sports programs, the players being punished are innocent of any wrongdoing, and the local economy will suffer a huge hit. In handing down the sanctions, NCAA president Mark Emmert talked about changing the "culture" at Penn State, though before the Sandusky scandal the program was renowned for its relatively high academic performance and lack of violations. But I guess these were the only tools at the NCAA's disposal, so these are the tools it used.