Ronnie Polaneczky: Penn State should take the lead, and voluntarily cancel football

Posted: July 25, 2012

WELCOME TO NCAA world, where, apparently, the only thing worse than ignoring the rape of a kid is giving illicit cash donations to student athletes.

How else to explain that the NCAA didn't impose the death penalty on Penn State football Monday but, in 1987, dropped the guillotine on Southern Methodist University's Mustangs?

The Mustangs deserved the beheading. After years of hand-slapping from the NCAA for recruiting improprieties and other rules violations, the NCAA canceled SMU's 1987 football season altogether when it learned the school had been paying players from a slush fund. The next year, SMU itself canceled its 1988 season when the school couldn't pull a decent team together.

On Monday, Penn State avoided a similar fate when the NCAA imposed sanctions that, though harsh, fall short of the shutdown this horrific case calls for.

To be fair, the NCAA death penalty is usually invoked against schools that are under sanction yet continue to re-offend. But Penn State's abuses were awful enough that it doesn't deserve football.

That's why the school should voluntarily pull the plug on itself, today. No other action would better signal that Penn State understands, without question, that it allowed football to rot the lives of children. And no other action would force a change in the conditions that allowed the rot to happen in the first place.

Don't misunderstand. The NCAA's $60 million fine is a fine start, as it will fund programs to prevent child-sex abuse. (Prevention Rule #1: Call the cops, not a lawyer, when you hear that a former coach was seen humping a little boy in the gym showers.)

But the other sanctions? Semantics and window-dressing.

It means nothing that PSU's football wins, going back to 1998, are being voided. What are we, idiots? Everyone knows the Nittany Lions won those games. Changing the numbers doesn't change what happened, for God's sake.

The adjusted tally will alter coach Joe Paterno's title from "winningest coach" to "fifth-winningest coach" in Division 1 football history. What are we, stupid? No one — especially the new winningest coach, former Florida State University coach Bobby Bowden — will ever forget Paterno's accomplishments on the field.

And it's piddling that Penn State will now be subject to five years of academic and athletic monitoring from both the NCAA and the Big 10 Conference — the latter of which has declared Penn State ineligible to share the league's bowl money for the next four years.

The Sandusky scandal didn't unfold because the football program lacked monitoring or abused bowl bucks. It unfolded because football was deemed more important than something as basic as the safety of children.

Any program so powerful that it corrupts the souls of its top administrators is a program that needs to shut down.

Maybe not forever. But, at the very least, for now.

"What about the current players?" goes the first protest. "They did nothing to have their lives blown to hell."

Damn straight. That's why Penn State should tell its current football players, whether on scholarship or not, that they will move heaven and earth to transfer them into football programs elsewhere (if they still want to play), no matter the cost.

If that means forking over $40,000-plus per year so a player can transfer to an Ivy, so be it. That's the price of betraying student athletes who trusted their bright futures to monstrous men who lost their moral center.

Others argue that the millions of dollars generated by Penn State football supports almost all of the school's other athletic programs. So what would happen to tennis, swimming and track if football goes away?

That's a tough question, and the best answer is, it's time for Penn State to figure that out. Because allowing football to become the driver of so many other programs allowed football to become a fearful bully.

The kind that made former school president Graham Spanier fear bad publicity about football more than he feared for the well-being of any child unlucky enough to be alone with Sandusky. The kind that gave Paterno a job for life, because Penn State leaders feared the fallout of firing him, even though they wanted him out a long time ago.

The kind of fear that turned football, a cash cow, into a sacred one, immune to criticism or question. Or decency.

It's time to shut it down.

Contact polaner@phillynews.com. Call 215-854-2217. Blog: www.philly.com/ronnieblog. Twitter: @RonniePhilly. We invite you to comment on this story by clicking here. Comments will be moderated.

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