College football is a unique enterprise and has been for many years. Coaches are paid millions, TV contracts are worth billions and the players who make it all happen get scholarships worth maybe $25,000 a year.
Against that backdrop, those who run this far-flung enterprise struggle to make it an educational endeavor or at least to appear to be one. And that's a major challenge. Wealthy coaches, with their legions of adoring fans, can easily become bigger than their programs, bigger even than their universities.
The late Joe Paterno became bigger than life as the coach at Penn State, a legend built largely on a myth, as most legends are. On Monday, Penn State football came crashing down when the NCAA levied unprecedented penalties.
The vacating of all wins since 1998, taking away Paterno's exalted position as the winningest coach in college football history, was the least of the penalties. A $60 million fine, huge as it was, will be paid. Four years without a bowl, draconian scholarship reductions and the ability of players to transfer without penalty or just stay on scholarship and not play were devastating.
Penn State might or might not be a winner this season, depending on how many players decide to leave. But the crash will come quickly, and it will be a decade or longer before Penn State football is relevant again.
You can argue whether the NCAA should have acted without its own investigation. But after hearing NCAA president Mark Emmert and Oregon State president Ed Ray, the chairman of the executive committee, it's hard to argue their contention that egregious NCAA violations occurred. Emmert made a good point when he said Louis Freeh's report, commissioned by Penn State, was more thorough than any report the NCAA ever could have done.
You have to feel badly for Penn State players and coaches, including former Auburn defensive coordinator Ted Roof. You have to feel badly for everyone who did not nothing wrong and will suffer.
But most of all, you have to feel badly for the child victims of former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. When the football program got so big that the men at the top of it were willing to turn a blind eye to unspeakable evil, the journey to Monday began.
Sandusky's actions landed him in prison where he belongs, but his crimes were just the beginning of Penn State's downfall. What brought Penn State down were the actions, or lack thereof, of those who put the good of a football program ahead of doing the right thing, who were afraid to run afoul of an iconic coach with unchallenged power.
Every president, every athletic director who is the football or basketball coach's boss in name only, who has no real control, should take notice.
And those at Penn State, starting with the Paterno family, should understand their disappointment and pain is nothing at all compared to the pain experienced by little boys who were hurt when grown men who could have helped them were more worried about winning football games.
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