Don't cry for the Nittany Lions.
Yes, the penalty dished out to Penn State University by the NCAA on Monday was harsh. The sanctions included a prohibition against postseason bowl games for four years, a reduction in scholarships and a $60 million fine.
In addition, all the football program's wins from 1998-2011 — 112 in all — have been voided. They don't exist. This means the late Joe Paterno, who died in January of lung cancer, will no longer be regarded as the winningest football coach in college history.
All of that is certainly a bitter pill to swallow for Penn State fans. But the fact is it could have been, and perhaps should have been, worse.
Penn State can be grateful that it did not get the death penalty, a complete ban of its football program. The NCAA had that option. As it is, the program will languish for several years and perhaps far longer. But it will be back. Some day.
Given the nature of what happened, we question whether it should. The issues involved here are grave, far more serious than the usual stuff of NCAA violations. This is not about auctioning a ring won in a postseason bowl game, borrowing the car of a booster or illegally contacting a potential recruit. This is about the Penn State football hierarchy discovering that Jerry Sandusky, one of its own, was a pedophile and responding by doing the worst thing possible — nothing.
Why? Because ultimately, as the report by former FBI Director Louis Freeh made clear, the four most powerful people at Penn State, including JoePa himself, were more concerned about protecting the name and profitability of the football program than the safety of a few kids. So the children lost.
Although Paterno and others knew about Sandusky's behavior and quietly showed him the door in 1999, they still gave him a key and access to the university's facilities and programs. Through his Second Mile charity and his Penn State connections, Sandusky was able to continue working with young people and groom potential victims.
As court testimony made clear, even after an assistant reported to Paterno that he had seen Sandusky have sexual intercourse with a 10-year-old boy in the showers in 2002, nothing was done. No police report was filed. The wall of secrecy remained in tact.
Only after victims started coming forward and a grand jury report was made public in November did the wall crumble. Sandusky was found guilty in June of sexually assaulting 10 young boys, five of them on campus, over a 15-year period.
The NCAA acted reasonably in response. It ruled that current Penn State football players, as well as incoming freshmen, will be allowed to immediately transfer and compete at another school without having to give up a year of eligibility.
Even so, critics are right when they argue that the sanctions mostly hurt those who were not part of the scandal. That's unfortunate. But this is the only means the governing body of college sports has to penalize Penn State for profiting from its cover-up. It's also the best way it has to send a clear message that this kind of cowardice — among adult leaders, no less — won't be tolerated.
It's a message that had to go out.