"Football will never again be placed ahead of educating, nurturing and protecting young people."That was NCAA president Mark Emmert's sanctimonious pronouncement as he proceeded to strip Penn State's blameless student athletes of their 111 football wins over the years 1998 to 2011.
You can argue that Penn State had it coming. The other sanctions are also harsh, 5 years probation, a reduction of 20 football scholarships per season for 5 years, a 4-year ban from postseason games, a $60 million fine, and loss of Big Ten bowl revenue sharing during the 4-year ban.
The NCAA should have just closed the Penn State football program down until sufficient atonement had been made. After all, as private collegiate athletic organizations, the NCAA has every right to throw Penn State out of its association and the Big Ten every right to thrown Penn State out of its conference. But the power to do that has led to another abuse of power, less egregious than the child sex abuse Jerry Sandusky was convicted of to be sure, but nonetheless an abuse.
Vacating past wins should be limited to punishment for cheating on the field of play. There is simply no credible case Penn State got any on-field advantage here. Mark Emmert's decision therefore lacks integrity, an offense against all the student athletes who played on those winning Penn State teams.
Attempting to rewrite sport history has that old Stalinist purge feel, and as usual in Soviet practice the number of people being sent to the gulag is way overbroad. If the idea was to deprive the now-dead Joe Paterno of the 409 wins as the winningest coach in his 45 years in first division college football, that could have been done without hurting the students:
"Penn State wins under coach Joe Paterno are vacated for purposes of coaching records."That's all it would take to reduce Joe Paterno's official win record to zero, while leaving the student players' win records intact. The 298 wins Emmert left Joe Paterno still put him at #7 on the first division coaches win list.
Of course, Emmert may have done Penn State a favor by turning Penn State from fellow perpetrator to victim. And Penn State is playing along by meekly accepting its punishment, just in time for the start of the fall college football season.