Penn State child sex abuse scandal has sparked a number of reactions, but among the more insular has been sports pundits debating whether the school's football program should get the rarely used NCAA "death penalty" -- code for "stop playing football for a full season." The last school to receive the death penalty, former national football power Southern Methodist, received the punishment 25 years ago and is only now climbing out of the pits of mediocrity. It's the harshest punishment the NCAA can muster, and many see it as the only appropriate remedy for this most despicable of crimes.
Penn State shouldn't get the death penalty.
Not because the NCAA doesn't have the authority to impose the death penalty; the NCAA can and does have a duty to safeguard the integrity of the game and the safety of its student-athletes. And not because the death penalty is too harsh a sentence; nothing is too harsh for a school that felt its own reputation was more important that keeping a child-rapist away from young boys.
Penn State deserves worse than the death penalty. It shouldn't be given the easy out of shutting down football for year. Penn State should be forced to play football and lose.
The NCAA should ban Penn State from providing any football scholarships for the next four years. Moreover, any Penn State football player currently on the roster should have the option to transfer, immediately and without penalty or forced non-participation, to any school in the NCAA. This would include any school in the Big Ten or on Penn State's schedule. For the next four years, Penn State football should also be banned from hosting any recruiting visits or football-related camps or workshops for anyone not on the Penn State roster. Penn State coaches should be banned from taking any off-campus recruiting for the next four years, including visiting any off-campus workouts, camps, combines or high school football games.
Logistically, the NCAA death penalty is a nightmare. Opposing teams now have holes in their schedules, through no fault of their own. TV broadcasters now have less inventory, which impacts revenue for other schools beyond Penn State. The groundskeepers and hotdog vendors and parking attendants that make money on Penn State football -- to say nothing of the football revenue that funds Penn State's non-revenue sports (and athletic scholarships) -- don't deserve to have their livelihoods stripped.
But Penn State football, and Penn State's athletics, and Penn State itself deserve to lose. Their crime was to believe that the glory of their football program was more important than everything else -- including the physical and emotional sanctity of innocent children. As such, they should be allowed to keep their football team, but forced to lose their glory. Repeatedly. On television. For years.
For the next four years, Penn State football will field a team entirely composed of walk-on, non-scholarship players who self-recruited to the program. If you believe in Penn State, you can play for them. But nobody is going to ask, and no one is going to compensate you for it. If you believe in Penn State, you can coach for them, but you know you're going to coach a losing team, and that your lifeblood recruiting contacts are going to atrophy and die.
Above all, Penn State is obligated to field a team under these restrictions. It cannot self-impose the death penalty simply to avoid the expense and humiliation of putting forth a team that will almost certainly lose every game it plays for the foreseeable future. The humiliation is the point.
Penn State will field a team of believers, who put Penn State above all else. And they will lose. Because they deserve to. Football isn't more important than innocent children. Every rout of Penn State will be a national reminder of that fact.
They've earned it.