The sanctions handed down by the NCAA on Monday morning as a result of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse case will have a profound impact on Penn State University and particularly its football program for years, perhaps decades, to come.
Marty Scarano, director of athletics at the University of New Hampshire and a 1978 Penn State graduate, hopes the message sent through the penalties from the NCAA and its president, Mark Emmert, resonates longer than that and throughout the country where collegiate athletic programs have become more and more powerful and willing to throw their weight around.
“In a more global view and not specific to Penn State, I think Mark Emmert's comments were point-on,” Scarano said. “This is a systemic issue going on right now in athletics, in this case intercollegiate athletics. The culture has become such that we have our priorities out of kilter. Clearly that was the case at Penn State. It was the culture that allowed these horrific child sexual-abuse incidents to take place. You've got to deal with the problem at its core, and that culture had run amok. I believe the sanctions will rectify that to a large degree.”
The sanctions against Penn State and its mighty football program include a $60 million fine, a four-year ban on postseason play, a four-year reduction in scholarships and the vacating of all Penn State victories from 1998 to 2011. In addition, any players currently on the roster or on their way to Penn State this fall may transfer and will be eligible to play immediately.
The NCAA sanctions followed up on the blistering report by former FBI director Louis Freeh that was released two weeks ago and blamed Penn State administrators, including the late coach Joe Paterno, for concealing allegations of sexual abuse against Sandusky for years.
A couple of hours after the NCAA news conference on Monday morning, Gilford's Chris Houston, a Penn State golf team recruit who begins school a month from today, was warming up on the range at the Penn State Golf Courses as he prepared for the start of a three-day tournament there.
“It's unbelievable,” Houston said. “Everyone is talking about it, for sure. I think everyone is kind of in shock right now. No one really knows what to think. It's kind of tough to get a read on the attitude. Everyone is trying to get over it and mourn a little bit.”
The road ahead will be long, but Houston is optimistic for his new school.
“This is an all-time low point for them, and there's only one direction it can go from here,” he said. “I think it will be tough, but I think things will get better.”
Scarano isn't so sure things are headed forward yet.
“It makes me kind of heartsick, but the real sad thing is, there's no closure,” Scarano said. “This is ongoing. This is far from being over. They still have others to adjudicate, and there will still be civil suits, and even as of last week there were still men coming forward who said they were abused by Sandusky in the '70s.”
Another side to story?
Bob Mullen of Hooksett graduated from Penn State in the same class as Sandusky in 1966 but did not know him. Mullen's son, Dan, is the head football coach at Mississippi State, and Dan's name was thrown about in the media as a candidate for the Penn State job when Paterno was fired late last season.
Bob Mullen thinks there still may be another side to the story of the alleged cover-up on the part of Paterno and other administrators.
“Doesn't it seem strange that someone who leads a good life his whole life ends up being such a monster in the end?” Mullen said. “I'm referring to Paterno. I still don't think his side of the story has been heard ... I'm an American, and if you've been accused of something, let's hear your side of the story. The Freeh report, as I understand it, is the prosecutor's document. Let's see the other side of the story, if in fact there is another side of the story. If they did cover it up, they deserve to be punished.”
There had been talk of Penn State receiving a so-called “death penalty” from the NCAA and being forced to shut the football program down for a year.
Many, Scarano and Bob Mullen among them, think the unprecedented sanctions levied against the program could turn out to be a worse and longer-lasting punishment than a death penalty.
“There could be 20 players lining up asking for their waivers to transfer,” Scarano said.
That other programs at Penn State will be hurt and players and coaches who had nothing to do with Sandusky or the problems have to suffer is all necessary collateral damage, Scarano said.
The message needed to be sent, to Penn State and all others, he said.
“This never should have happened,” Scarano said. “There never should have been an environment where this could have happened. I'm a passionate Penn Stater, and I'm embarrassed by it — enormously embarrassed by it. It has to be rectified.”
And not just at Penn State, he reiterated.
“This goes on at a lot of institutions,” he said. “Not the sex abuse, but the misalignment of priorities. I'm not going to name names, but there are programs in all the big conferences where it happens. We all have to ask ourselves, 'Are we doing everything we can to align our priorities correctly?' We have to remind ourselves we're part of an academic institution.”
Efforts to obtain comment from U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a 1990 graduate of Penn State, were unsuccessful.