We live in a world where in two calendar years, college football will determine, for the first time ever, a champion at its highest level through some semblance of a playoff. We also live in one where the sports' governing body seems hell bent on legislating through chaos, improvised time signature, and without boundary, prudence, or accountability.
While the tragedy and repercussions of the Jerry Sandusky scandal continue to tear through State College like aftershocks following an earthquake and with legendary Hall of Fame Coach Joe Paterno's reputation and legacy indelibly marred, the people's show trial rules the day, setting an arbitrary cost on innocence, making a mockery of due process and precedent, and cheapening the entire sport.
With NCAA president Mark Emmert deputized to unilaterally yield the gavel, he's made it clear that despite nuance being necessary, nay mandatory, and that though legal bodies designed to handle the moral failings of man that transcend that of intercollegiate athletics are already long steadfast in place and present, that his word stands alone as the sentencing hearing. Effectively, Penn State's current student athletes, prospective future ones, and the thousands of people economically dependent on its viability are being given but two options: exile or death.
Few question Penn State's place in the linear narrative of the Sandusky trial. A bludgeoning, archaic, cancerous football culture enabled a tragically mentally ill monster of a human to ruin lives forever, and those designed to protect the health of the program chose furthering a lie than with the basic human decency requisite need to protect those unable to protect themselves. Of course those men are now dead, facing most of the rest of their natural lives incarcerated in hell holes, and the institution they prioritized above all else permanently scarred.
Though all punishment carries along collateral which crosses boundaries and impacts those not immediately responsible, few come down knowingly spraying residual financial shrapnel over this large of a populace. It's worth mentioning, too, that a year or two stand still in some collated entertainment and leisure industries wouldn't even be the end of the world. Vegas cab drivers withstood the housing market collapse and recessionary pitfalls of the end of the last decade and Phoenix realtors did the same; while some would see personal savings and income diminish, and a few horribly unfortunate few may have to look into alternative career options or employment possibilities, while football may have built the city that is State College PA, a non-permanent removal wouldn't destroy it.
Lines about denying college educations as a response are also misleading. The opportunity cost of taking a set number of scholarships away, or even dramatically, trickling down and eliminating entire athletic programs, in the majority of cases, aren't scholarship at Penn State or nothing. Those student athletes will have opportunities elsewhere and while multiplier effects could cost a small, indeterminate of opportunities after a long enough timeline/trickle down effect, there almost assuredly aren't many (if any) at the heights of Penn State's level of collegiate athletic competition.
Where it gets important is as follows: process and desired outcome. If the NCAA needs nearly ten months to look into tattoo bartering and then unrelated instances of players improperly getting small amounts of cash for personal appearances (which yes Matt Hayes, both of which went into their final ruling and end punishment), longer to wrap their heads around the football bacchanalian in Miami, and even longer on heels of the Oregon's/LSU's of the world and their ties to Willie Lyles, how can 13 days after an independent (and like the NCAA, also sans legitimate subpoena power) review of the situation be seen as anything but as gut check and visceral of a reaction as the same kind of hyperbole you see flying around Internet message boards and social media sites?
The complexity and moving parts of the affair that's left Penn State a shell of its former self alone demands introspection, investigation, deliberation, and above all else collaboration. No one knows better what their community needs to move on than the community itself. While some still in Penn State's power structure may not willingly acquiesce to voluntary sanction or admonishment, the effectively substitute administrators left to pick up the pieces of the rubble could provide much needed prospective and insight as to what State College's needs are, not just Penn State's.
If it comes to be that the school itself has played a critical role in the end outcome of whatever transpires tomorrow morning at 9 A.M. EST that's merely been green lit by Emmert, the end result is far less assailable. But with different perspectives/reports at this point still leaving that very point in question, it's difficult to give any credence to the "staggering", "significant", "crippling", and "unprecedented" false dichotomy heading for Penn State. The very idea that the substitute to the traditional death penalty could leave it as a next best alternative is as vacuous as it sounds.
And then of course lies desired outcome. There's no measuring sticks possible in a situation as both disheartening and complicated as this. As sports writers, bloggers, and fans continue to swing and miss at an unthinkable clip on understanding the differences between the meaning of the words strung together sequentially "failure to maintain control" and the legal, bylaw definition, many of the same (and others) lobby endlessly for action for the sake of action.
Aimless cries for "precedence", as though the word has some holy, unalienable meaning and that the ashes of a program (and man's legacy), the disgraced public sentiment, and near endless legal ramifications aren't precedent enough, do so in spite of the fact that this is the very sort of situation to which there can't really be a hard and fast "you lose x number of bowls and scholarships" because all the other legal ramifications (and basic human moral ones) far transcend sport bylaws.
And even if you still feel "there's no way the NCAA can do nothing", allowing them to recognize how over their heads they are and how out of their element they'd be in trying to re-sculpt their place in an issue that while of football is not specifically a football problem, the end product ramifications, the very forewarning you're campaigning for appears to be as follows: there is no precedent. When the NCAA needs to come to a hard decision, they'll simply yield the floor to the man in the most expensive suit and let him play arrhythmically and even out-of-key. If that's the shadow justice you're seeking to cover the entire landscape and serve as a forewarning to those who dare betray their basic responsibilities as a person in a society, congratulations, it's all yours.
So what should be done? It's not something that can easily be answered in a few paragraphs and most certainly not something that should be deliberated on in but a few short days. While Penn State's donated millions already to child abuse charities, in order to make anything tangentially close to a long lasting difference, it's going to take much more. Emmert, et al.'s prerogative could've been record financial levies against Penn State; should the Lions want to continue an active football program at the NCAA's highest level, for each scholarship they award, they could send an equal dollar value towards child abuse prevention charities for X number of years. Or, if viable structurally to the athletic department as a whole (which is admittedly probably wouldn't be), donate all home gate proceeds directly to charity for the next 3-5 years. Instead, a set number of competitive handcuffs are the method du jour of the all intents and purposes capital punishment. Make the shell of a storied football program a shell of that shell. As if that'll prevent corner cutting nationally or the deitization of the sport on a level that sees hundreds upon hundreds of fans go to media days to try and catch a glimpse of and/or autograph of their school of allegiance's leader.
Of course the unknowns that still linger are the causal "if then's" from a far lower level trivial football fan concern. Will current players be allowed to escape from a bleak, length post-season-less on the field student athlete experience? Will the likes of running back Silas Redd, who once chose Penn State over Boston College, UConn, Rutgers, Stanford, Oregon, and Virginia revisit his options to better himself personally and professionally? Or will seniors like potential all-conference linebacker Michael Mauti, a redshirt senior, decided to finish his career where he started it, punishment and all? That's of course saying nothing about the Adam Breneman's and Christian Hackenberg's comprising the future of Penn State football and their as recently as the middle-of-last-week pledges that as long as Penn State "has football", they'll be a part of it. The complexities of such broad sweeping affirmations about to be tested by a higher power's equally broad actions.
And that leaves us with the fans. The same people that lose in this whole mess and are caught in the friendly fire. Their diplomas and replica jerseys never meant a allegiance so blind that they'd turn their heads to this. And while people continue to put the most vocal, irrational, illogical of the lots on a pedestal to make lazy, broad, sweeping generalizations about all of them, it doesn't change the fact that whatever happens tomorrow, the majority are going to have their primary leisurely distraction, something they invest time and money annually in because it serves as a point of civic pride, tribalism, vicarious trips down memory lane, and an excuse to not have to think about the monotony of many of life's less enthralling aspects, further denigrated, retried in the court of public opinion yet again, and hampered in a way that regardless of the fairness of it all, serves effectively as a punishment for them for choosing the school or team of allegiance and little more. "Fair" may be a philosophical concept fitting of a crime at the highest levels of the pyramid, but it certainly isn't going to be one many at the bottom are going to reflect with blanket acceptance of.