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Shelton: NCAA's Penn State penalties cause collateral damage

The statue? The administrators can take the statue.

They can break the Joe Paterno statue into a million pieces if they want. They can blindfold it and transport it to every courtroom where there is a case of child abuse, just to show the dangers of looking the other way.

The victories? The NCAA can have the victories.

They can strip away every win Paterno has had since 1998, and before that if they wish. I've never been a fan of stripping away victories because, let's face it, it's rewriting history. Still, if it must happen in the name of justice, then I'll provide the eraser.

The legacy? Yeah, you can alter Paterno's legacy forever.

The damage is complete. Joe Paterno has officially fallen from a good man to a bad one. For 1,000 years, it will be impossible to speak his name without mentioning all the pain he could have prevented. There has never been a fall like this in sports, not O.J. Simpson and not Billy Cannon, where a universally admired figure became a national disgrace.

All of that said, there is this:

The NCAA went too far with Monday's punishments.

Please understand. I do not mean to lessen the horror of what happened at Penn State. The crimes of former coach Jerry Sandusky were unthinkable, and I hope his cell is dark and diseased and that prison guards pipe the sound of children crying into his cell every hour.

Nor do I feel particularly sorry for Paterno who, according to the Freeh Report, talked his superiors out of reporting Sandusky. If Paterno was the man most of us thought him to be, dozens of victims might have been spared thousands of nightmares.

The other administrators? You cannot make them suffer enough.

On the other hand, why punish the current players at Penn State? Silas Redd didn't do a thing, nor did Derek Moye or Devon Still or Jack Crawford or Matt McGloin or anyone else who plays for Penn State. Why lump them in with the wrongdoers?

The NCAA, of course, has a long history of punishing the innocent. It usually goes something like this: Southern Cal cheats with Reggie Bush, and eventually, the NCAA finds out, and because it can no longer touch Bush, it punishes the next generation of players and calls it justice. The logic is that it was the program that was trying to gain an advantage, and it was the program that needed to be policed.

This time, however, no one is accused of cheating. No one gained a competitive edge. No one broke an NCAA rule. So why hit Penn State with the same level of punishments usually reserved for those schools who try to buy their tailbacks?

Is the NCAA so eager to appear outraged (and isn't everyone) over the crimes that it is willing to put a team on probation although it hasn't broken any rules?

Here's a question: Why was this even an NCAA issue to begin with? Did the NCAA think the United States legal system needed the help? Is there now a line where a university's legal problems are under the NCAA's domain? Does the NCAA act if there is a murder at, say, Minnesota? What if there is domestic abuse at Texas? Or academic fraud at Ole Miss? Drug use at Oregon? A DUI in Kansas? A bar fight at LSU?

If this is a precedent, the NCAA is going to need a lot more investigators. And if it isn't a precedent, it looks a lot like grandstanding.

Yet, this seems to be a popular move. As a university, Penn State's complicity was so stark, so jarring, that it has become impossible to overpunish the school. For once, the plodding agents of the NCAA were quick and decisive and firm in their judgment. They said mostly the right things about vigilance and intolerance.

On the other hand, if the NCAA really believes that this decision signals a new age where schools will now place education ahead of athletics, it thinks far too much of itself. Look around. Or listen to the phones ring. How many coaches in the NCAA do you think are calling Penn State football players today? Answer: Only the ones with phones.

There is something wrong with that. That's my problem here. In the name of looking strong, the NCAA forgot all about fair. In the interest of being quick, it forgot about being just.

Again, I don't mind the money, because even at $60 million, Penn State got off cheap. I don't mind the stripping of Paterno's name from a child care center, because when it mattered most, he didn't care. I don't mind that a lot of other bad men (the administration) are going to wind up in jail, too.

On the other hand, why punish the innocent?

At Penn State, hasn't there been too much of that already?

Penn State penalties

• $60 million in fines, equivalent to the average annual revenue of the football program

• Four-year postseason ban for football

• Vacation of 112 football victories since 1998, meaning Joe Paterno's record now is 298-136-3, falling from first to fifth on the major-college wins list

• Reduction of 10 football scholarships per recruiting class for the next four years

• Total football scholarships capped at 65, 20 fewer than normal, beginning in 2014

• Current football players may transfer and be eligible immediately

• Probation for the athletic department for five years

• Forfeit share of Big Ten bowl revenues during postseason ban

Shelton: NCAA's Penn State penalties cause collateral damage 07/23/12 [Last modified: Monday, July 23, 2012 9:40pm]
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