Morelli OnLion: NCAA punishments were fair

Just when it appeared that things couldn’t get any worse for Penn State, they did.

In July, the NCAA handed down its sanctions against the school. As expected, the NCAA brought the hammer down on the once-proud institution.

The NCAA didn’t give the Nittany Lions the “death penalty,” but what it did may have been worse. Here are the details:

An unprecedented $60 million fine, the equivalent of a season’s worth of Penn State football revenue. That money will be placed in an endowment to programs preventing child sexual abuse and assisting its victims.

The loss of 10 scholarships in each of Penn State’s next two recruiting classes. By 2014, the Nittany Lions’ football scholarships will be capped at 65. It is a crippling blow for a Division I football program.

A bowl ban for the next four seasons. Penn State also won’t be allowed to share in the Big Ten’s bowl revenues.

All of Penn State’s victories from 1998-2011 will be vacated. That’s a total of 111, knocking Joe Paterno from the top spot on the all-time NCAA Division I victory list. His career total falls from 409 to 298.

This is a tough pill for all Penn State fans, alumni and former players to swallow. But it has to be done.

Based on the reaction in Happy Valley and around the globe, it sounds as if fans feel that the penalty is too harsh, that the NCAA came down too hard on the football program.

I’m here to tell you otherwise.

These penalties are well-deserved. Based on the heinous crimes that were committed on Penn State’s campus, in the locker room showers right under the nose of Paterno, I truly expected the death penalty, at least for a season or two.

Instead, the NCAA spared Penn State and the local economy. Imagine the economic impact of having no football Saturdays in Happy Valley. It would be crippling. In many ways, the NCAA did Penn State — and the entire community — a huge favor by not shutting the program down.

Yes, the bowl ban hurts. It renders the 12 regular season games meaningless, for the most part. The Nittany Lions can win every single one, but it won’t matter. There will be no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, no light at the end of the tunnel. It’s going to be 12 weeks of scrimmages, 12 weeks of preseason games.

I’ve heard numerous fans complain that the current batch of Nittany Lions shouldn’t be penalized because they had nothing to do with the scandal. That’s true. However, there’s always collateral damage when NCAA sanctions are handed down. Just ask USC or Ohio State. Life isn’t always fair, is it?

First-year head coach Bill O’Brien has a monumental task in front of him. First and foremost, he has to get his team ready for a Sept. 1 opener. During that time, he has to make sure that none of the current players bolt to another program, which they are now free to do. In a sense, he has to re-recruit them. It’s not going to be easy.

Penn State coach Bill O’Brien faces a daunting task following NCAA sanctions against the university.


At the end of the day, all of that seems fairly insignificant, doesn’t it?

What’s needed more than anything in Happy Valley is a change in the culture. We can no longer put football on a pedestal. We can no longer worship coaches as if they were gods. That helped get us into this mess in the first place.

For over a decade, four men decided that a football program, an image and “Success with Honor” were more important than children.

That can never happen again.

In announcing the penalties, Mark Emmert, the NCAA president, called the case the most painful “chapter in the history of intercollegiate athletics,” and said it could be argued that the punishment was “greater than any other seen in NCAA history.”

He said Penn State accepted the penalties when they were presented to the university, and he called its cooperation remarkable.

“Football will never again be placed ahead of educating, nurturing and protecting young people,” Emmert said.

It’s time to change the culture here. Perhaps four years of bowl-less seasons will do just that.

“Penn State can focus on the work of rebuilding its athletic culture,” Emmert said, “not worrying about whether or not it’s going to a bowl game.”

Chris Morelli is an award-winning writer/editor who lives in Centre County and covers Penn State athletics for He’s also a regular on “Sports Central,” which airs on ESPN Radio in Altoona and State College. Email him at


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