Penn State should do away with athletics

Penn State should do away with athletics

Published Jul. 20, 2012 9:40 p.m. ET

DETROIT -- It's time for Penn State to step up.

The national debate has been whether the NCAA should give the Nittany Lions the death penalty in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky cover-up, or if it should be the Big Ten that swings the hammer.

Neither one of them should get involved. This isn't about recruiting violations or athletes getting illegal benefits. That's where the NCAA has jurisdiction. That's where the Big Ten can drop a school from the conference.

This is a situation where an institution of higher learning completely lost track of its own purpose and priorities. This is about a state school where sports became so important that horrendous criminal activities were covered up to avoid damaging the football program.

Pennsylvania funds Penn State to the tune of $227 million a year -- a huge chunk of money for a rust-belt state in this economy -- and certainly enough to put the school's decisions under the microscope. Yet, according to the Freeh Report, the school's highest officials felt powerless to go against Joe Paterno's wishes to cover up the heinous allegations against Sandusky.

Remember, this wasn't an anonymous accusation. This was an eyewitness account by a member of the football staff against a man who had been the focus of a previous police investigation. Paterno knew that, and so did the university administrators. Yet, when JoPa decided that protecting the football program was more important than investigation a possible serial pedophile, his wishes were granted.

While this incident goes well beyond the problems at most athletic-power universities, that's more a factor of luck than of Penn State having a unique culture. Remember Ohio State president Gordon Gee being asked about firing rule-breaking football coach Jim Tressel and replying, "I hope he doesn't fire me"?

That was meant as a joke, but actually gives a pretty accurate look into the culture at most athletic powerhouses. Football and basketball coaches with the ability to deliver national championships run their programs with dictatorial powers, no matter what it says on the school's organizational chart.

Now we know where that culture can lead. This wasn't a football player getting help with his classes or a basketball player getting extra money from a willing booster. This was the cover-up of a serious crime -- a cover-up that allowed Sandusky to continue molesting children for several years.

With possible victims still coming forward, there's no way of knowing the human cost of the decision not to report Mike McQueary's allegation, but it goes well beyond the benefit of winning a few more football games.

Penn State let this happen, and now Penn State needs to make an example of itself. They need to make a sacrifice that shows they understand the enormity of the school's mistakes, that shows other schools the danger of letting an athletic program turn into an unchecked monster.

We'll start with the easy part. Take down the Joe Paterno statue and remove "Joseph Vincent Paterno: Educator. Coach. Humanitarian." from the wall behind it. Replace them with an empty plinth and a plaque explaining the scandal, dedicated to the nameless victims.

That should have already been done and still might happen. But the next part is the step that Penn State won't have the courage to implement.

Abolish the athletic program.

No, not just the football program. The whole thing. And not just for a year or two. For good.

Drastic? Yes, but only because of the enormity of the crime. Penn State has proven that it cannot adequately run an athletic department with even a slight amount of oversight.

Unfair to the student-athletes involved? Certainly -- and measures should be taken to help with that -- but nowhere near as harmful as what the university’s intentional blindness allowed Sandusky to do to innocent children.

Financially damaging to State College? Definitely, although not as much as people will claim.

There will be savings along with the lost revenue, and there's no way of appropriately punishing Penn State without some people getting caught in the fallout. That's the fault of the culture that was allowed to flourish, not the people that now have to make tough decisions.

To make this work, Penn State will have to work with the NCAA to try to minimize the problems faced by the athletes who will lose their teams. This can be handled with a few simple steps.

1. Any student who has an athletic scholarship to Penn State can finish their education with the same benefits they currently receive. They can also hold jobs and do everything allowed to normal students.

2. Any athlete who wants to transfer can do so immediately without punishment or loss of eligibility. They could begin play in the 2012-13 school year at the same grade level they had for Penn State.

3.Any athlete who chooses may transfer and take a one-year special redshirt. That would allow them to begin play in the 2013-14 school year with the same number of years of eligibility they would have had at Penn State. This protects players in sports like football, who would have a tough time getting playing time this fall in another program. They would be allowed to practice with the team at their new school.

Will this happen? Of course not.

I hope to be wrong, but I doubt Penn State will even show the courage to sanction the football team, much less the athletic program as a whole. They will claim that the new coach did nothing wrong and it would be unfair to punish the current players.

That will be the excuse. And that will be why the current culture of sports-above-all will continue to flourish at schools across the country.

This is a chance to fix that. I hope someone has the courage to take that step forward.