Beginning as far back as 1998, Penn State President Graham Spanier, head football coach Joe Paterno, Athletic Director Tim Curley, and Vice President Gary Schultz kept secret details of Jerry Sandusky's predation of children on their campus. In 2001, after an assistant coach reported an incident, Mr. Paterno used his unparalleled influence to persuade the administration not to notify outside authorities about Mr. Sandusky's actions.
These were among findings of the exhaustive investigation by former FBI director Louis J. Freeh into the Sandusky scandal. The cover-up allowed Mr. Sandusky, a former assistant coach, to continue molesting young boys for many years. It also allowed Penn State football and Coach Paterno to continue for another two decades the myth of the exceptional, unblemished program, and that made it easier to recruit top-rated players, win games, market the university and land TV contracts.
It was entirely appropriate, therefore, for the NCAA - recognizing that the leaders of Penn State had benefitted by putting the welfare of their football program above the welfare of children and the moral obligation to act - to issue harsh sanctions Monday. These penalties will include a $60 million fine, a four-year football postseason ban, five-year probation for the athletic department and the loss, for four years, of 20 of the 85 scholarships the football program is normally eligible to provide.
The punishment will be devastating to one of the most storied college football programs. The Big Ten Conference added its own punishment, prohibiting Penn State from appearing in any title games (unlikely in any event given the sanctions) and sharing bowl revenues, a loss of about $13 million annually.
This should send the message to other schools that the NCAA will deal harshly with any future cover-ups of illegal activity carried out for the purpose of protecting an athletic program.
Some may argue that it is unfair to punish current players and personnel when all the guilty are gone or, in Mr. Paterno's case, dead. But it has always been thus, since sanctions are the only tool NCAA has to show it is serious. And players can transfer without penalty.
As for the decision to vacate all wins dating to 1998, stripping Mr. Paterno of the record of most college football victories, it carries important symbolism, as did removing his statue at the university. "Joe Pa" did many good things, but the failure to protect children was a terribly bad thing and it's now part of his legacy.