Penn State deserves NCAA’s ‘death penalty’

To maintain its own integrity, the NCAA must use its powers to suspend the Penn State football program for at least a year, in light of the investigation by former FBI director Louis Freeh that showed a massive coverup by those in charge, including the ousted president of the university, Graham Spanier and coach Joe Paterno.

The current players should all be allowed to transfer without having to sit out a year at their new schools, as they normally would have to do. They had nothing to do with this, so they shouldn’t be penalized.

But the school’s football program should be, under the clause in the NCAA constitution that allows punishment of a school for “losing institutional control.”

This is far worse than what SMU did in the mid-’80s, when a massive slush fund was discovered to pay athletes under the table, for which the school’s football program was given the so-called “death penalty” for the 1987 season. An abbreviated season was scheduled for the next year, but SMU chose to cancel that as well because it did not think it could field a representative team.

SMU’s violations were entirely financial. In Penn State’s case, the Freeh investigation disclosed evidence that Paterno and the Penn State hierarchy had concealed the knowledge that former football assistant Jerry Sandusky had sexually abused a young boy in the showers in the Penn State locker room. Sandusky was convicted last month of 45 counts of sexual abuse against 10 youngsters.

Which offense do you think is the more reprehensible?

Freeh was hired by the university’s board of trustees to investigate what happened after graduate assistant Mike McQueary reported to Paterno in 2001 that he had witnessed Sandusky abusing the young boy.

Freed’s investigation, using emails and handwritten notes, concluded that Paterno had intervened to stop an investigation of the event — and that other emails showed that Paterno had known of Sandusky’s activities even earlier, in 1998. Freeh described the coverup by Paterno and university officials as “callous and shocking,” with its lack of regard for Sandusky’s victims.

Paterno did not try to stop Sandusky or get counseling for him. Instead, he allowed Sandusky, who was no longer his assistant but was running a program, ostensibly to help youngsters, to continue using college facilities for his

And the emails Freeh uncovered showed that he convinced the top people in the administration not to investigate further. So Sandusky was allowed to continue his pedophilic activities unchecked.

The Paterno family is challenging the results of the Freeh investigation, hoping to change the public perception of Paterno, who died in January. It’s much too late for that. Paterno besmirched his own reputation. Had he acted responsibly at the time, he would still be revered as a successful coach who also cared about the education of his players, as few big-time coaches do. Instead, for most people outside Happy Valley, where they are as willfully blind as his family, his reputation will be forever tainted by this one inexcusable act.

Paterno can’t be punished, but the college should be. Keeping a football program going that has allowed this kind of horror would be inexcusable.

Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on Email him at

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