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Penn State Football: The Great Debate Over Whether the Nittany Lions Should Get the Death Penalty

on June 26, 2012 11:30 PM

We all know it as the “death penalty.”

Its official name is NCAA Bylaw

Former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky’s sexual abuse of children over a 15-year period has cast a black cloud over Happy Valley.

His punishment? No doubt it will be essentially a life sentence.

As a result. some big-name sports columnists across the country are calling for the Penn State football program, being investigated by the NCAA for lack of institutional control, to be punished as well, in the severest way possible with the death penalty.

Essentially, it is a punishment imposed by the NCAA that bans a school from competing in a sport for at least one year. No punishment the NCAA doles out is tougher than that.

Only five times has the organization shut down an athletic program – and only once in football. That occurred when the NCAA forced SMU to drop football for the 1987 and '88 seasons, after its players were involved in a massive play-for-pay scandal.

Should Penn State football be No. 6?

I say no. Not right now. It is far too early to make such a decision. Too many things have yet to play out in this ugly sex abuse scandal.

The perjury trial of former Penn State officials Tim Curley and Gary Schultz hasn't even started. And the Louis Freeh investigation won't be made public until later this summer, so we don't know the depth of alleged cover-up of the Sandusky scandal, or the roles former president Graham Spanier or late football coach Joe Paterno may or may not have played.

So to give Penn State the death penalty at this point doesn’t make sense. No NCAA rules have been broken that we know of in this gut-wrenching case that has dominated the national spotlight for more than seven months, and will continue to do so.

Here’s a sampling of what some national sports columnists have written in the past few days regarding Penn State's possible punishment:

David Climer, columnist, The Tennessean

“Now it’s time for Penn State’s football program to get the death penalty. That’s right: Shut it down for a season. Put the program on ice as acknowledgment that the university is guilty of allowing Jerry Sandusky’s monstrous behavior to continue — often on campus.

“This should be a self-imposed penalty. Penn State’s leadership — assuming there really is leadership — needs to take a long, hard look at itself and do the right thing by going dark for a football season.

“No games. No tailgating. No opportunity to gather in Happy Valley and pretend that none of this really happened. Pay the coaching staff. Keep the players on scholarship. Practice and hold private intrasquad scrimmages if you want.

“But don’t play any games.”

George Diaz, columnist, Orlando Sentinel

“Jerry Sandusky deserves the death penalty. So does Penn State.

“Sandusky is a monster, a pedophile who preyed on the most innocent and vulnerable of children -- many of them foster kids dealing with issues of self worth and trust in adults. He is a monster beyond repair, a waste of space in prison, a temporary pit stop before he rots in hell.

“Penn State officials, including the dearly departed icon Joe Paterno, harbored the monster for years and years.

“Neither will get the death penalty of course, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore the moral truths staring us in the face following Sandusky’s conviction on 45 counts of sexual abuse late Friday night.

“Ignore is the operative word here for Penn State officials. They knew. They had to know. There were multiple incidents involving Sandusky, incidents that Paterno dismissed as some sort of ‘horseplay.’ With all due respect to the dead, anal sex in a shower with a boy should never be considered ‘horseplay.’

“It is a brutal, heinous crime.”

Drew Sharp, columnist, Detroit Free Press

“The jury has spoken. A once-respected man formally has devolved into a pedophilic monster.

“But there always were multiple layers to the Jerry Sandusky nightmare. There's the enduring horror of what those poor kids went through. Many were underprivileged or simply tossed aside as irrelevant, in dire need of a strong, positive male influence who could improve dwindling self-esteem. And they put their trust in a man who sadistically took advantage of that vulnerability. There's a special place in hell for Sandusky, convicted on 45 of 48 counts of criminal sexual abuse over a span of 15 years.

“But the secondary phase of this tragedy involves Penn State's institutional lapses. It's inconceivable -- now given the broad scope of Sandusky's insidiousness -- that the university can say it had no prior knowledge or suspicion of Sandusky's deviant conduct over such an extended time.

“Whether it reached the standard of a criminal cover-up remains to be seen, but it should be obvious now that Penn State was more interested in protecting its sacrosanct football brand from any public embarrassment and possible financial retaliation than it was in protecting those defenseless victims. Football meant more than principle, money more than honor.

“This is what happens when you allow something to grow so powerful that it devours everything in its wake, including the moral responsibility to do what's right. Those toasting the inevitability of a football playoff formally replacing the BCS this week should remember that. A four-team playoff will make the sport bigger and more profitable, but also more political and thus more corruptible.

“An example must be made of Penn State.”

Gregg Doyel, national columnist,

“Penn State football doesn't deserve the death penalty, which is not the same thing as saying ‘Penn State football should be allowed to go about its business as if Jerry Sandusky never happened.’

“He happened. Everyone knows it. And Penn State will pay, over and over and over. As well it should.

“Listen, if you're a Penn State fan and you read the first eight words of this story and kept reading because you thought this would be supportive, well, you thought wrong. This story is not going to be supportive of Penn State.

“But this story isn't going to go too far in the other direction, either, and tap into the rage out there, rage that I understand. No need to compare my rage to yours, but likewise I'm not going to give in to the mob mentality out there that wants anybody and everybody associated with Penn State to burn in hell.

“The death penalty for Penn State football? That's illogical. Literally, it makes no sense. The NCAA's death penalty is appropriate when a school has broken NCAA rules, not state laws."

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