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Scandal will ruin Penn State's program for years to come

CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

There's not much the NCAA can do to the university for the alleged child sex-abuse incidents, but it doesn't have to. The Nittany Lions will need a long time to recover.

November 09, 2011|Chris Dufresne
  • Penn State President Graham Spanier, left, speaks with Coach Joe Paterno before a game against Iowa on Oct. 8. Penn State's football program could see its recruiting efforts hampered for years in the wake of its child-abuse sex scandal and Joe Paterno's firing.
Penn State President Graham Spanier, left, speaks with Coach Joe Paterno… (Gene Puskar / Associated…)

Joe Paterno has been fired, effective immediately.

So has Penn State President Graham Spanier.

It's an unhappy end in Happy Valley.

So one of the questions becomes, what happens to Penn State football and what might the NCAA do about it?

Southern Methodist football received the "Death Penalty" in the 1980s for a booster pay-for-play scheme that led all the way to the governor's office.

"We had a payroll to meet," was the heinous take-away line from that scandal.

USC football was put on major probation because Reggie Bush's parents were set up in a condo in San Diego. Ohio State awaits sentencing because players sold merchandise for tattoos. Miami may be deep-sixed because a rogue booster lavished players with gifts.

Yet, the NCAA probably has no jurisdiction to punish Penn State football for allegedly concealing crimes against young boys.

Go ahead and rip your hair out.

The NCAA has power over rule-breakers, not lawmakers.

Charles Manson might have sailed through the NCAA Clearinghouse so long as he kept his grade-point average over 2.5.

NCAA President Mark Emmert, who has been pounding the pulpit for reform, isn't taking a formal position on Penn State's situation. He issued a statement this week that read, "This is a criminal matter under investigation by law enforcement authorities and I will not comment on details. However, I have read the grand jury report and find the alleged assaults appalling. As a parent and an educator, the notion that anyone would use a position of trust to prey on children is despicable. My thoughts and concern goes out to the alleged victims and their families."

Now please call the NCAA's direct hotline if you hear of any Penn State player receiving a free sandwich.

Call this insanity because that's what it is. But don't think Penn State football is going to skate because the NCAA has no rule that covers harboring alleged child molesters.

This case has already started taking care of itself.

"The NCAA is not going to have to do anything," said a BCS official speaking anonymously because of the sensitive nature of the situation. "They can sit back and watch the house burn down."

Penn State's Board of Trustees tossed the first match Wednesday night, firing its iconic head coach along with the university's president.

Penn State football as we know it is officially over.

It might survive as primordial ooze. The program is more toxic than radiation and its troubles will have nothing to do with losing 30 scholarships over the next three years.

There is no patching Penn State back together. The program will have to be rebuilt from scratch.

"It will be a pretty clean sweep, it appears," former Penn State quarterback Todd Blackledge said on ESPN, even before the firings were announced. "A lot of new faces, new policies, new processes put in place, which will be good in the long run. … It's going to take time."

We're guessing 10 years.

Paterno, after 409 wins and 62 years on campus, announced his retirement Wednesday at the end of the season. Less than 24 hours later, the decision was taken out of his hands. The athletic director and former vice president have posted bail on perjury charges.

Penn State has received the Almost Death Penalty.

No coach from the existing staff can be elevated to take Paterno's place on a permanent basis. Tom Bradley, the interim coach, has been on Paterno's staff for 33 years, but any coach with ties to the program — especially if he coached alongside Jerry Sandusky — cannot be a candidate.

Urban Meyer appeared willing and able to replace Paterno but will likely now run away from this mess faster than Usain Bolt.

Ohio State looks like Shangri-La by comparison.

Penn State recruiting, for the foreseeable future, is shot. What parent is going to send their son or daughter to a school that granted emeritus status to Sandusky?

The NCAA doesn't need to step in with scholarship reductions. The moms and dads from Williamsport and Harrisburg will handle that.

The NCAA does have the power to release every Penn State athlete from his or her scholarship without having to sit out a season — a move it should strongly consider.

Penn State is already bowl eligible this year at 8-1, but there's a chance whoever takes charge won't allow the school to compete.

Some bowl officials are horrified Penn State could fall to them in the selection rotation.

After this year, though, you won't have to worry about Penn State. USC will lose 10 scholarships a year for the next three years and win a national title before Penn State wins the Big Ten.

The NCAA doesn't have to lift a finger because Penn State will collapse under the weight of a scandal that might have no equal in sports.

What compares to what has been alleged?

Maybe the scandal at Baylor, where former basketball coach Dave Bliss was caught on tape trying to smear a player, Patrick Dennehy, who had been murdered.

Michael Vick went to jail for cruelty to dogs. Tiger Woods' scandal was salacious but not illegal and isolated mostly to his own transgressions.

Point shaving rocked college basketball and City College of New York in the early 1950s, and Army endured academic cheating at West Point.

But Penn State has charted new, regrettable ground.

"I will spend the rest of my life doing everything I can to help this university," Paterno said Wednesday in his retirement statement.

It might be too late.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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