The Sports Page: Nittany Lions Neutered*
*Note: This article may be vacated at a later date at the discretion of the NCAA
On Monday the National Collegiate Athletic Association announced its punishment for the Penn State University Nittany Lions football program. The department came under scrutiny as a result of the Jerry Sandusky trial, subsequent Freeh Report, and litany of sex abuse findings. If you do not know what I’m talking about, first off welcome back from the International Space Station (I hope you brought pictures) and secondly go Google it before continuing. The NCAA, this most august and prestigious of organizations, really a shining light of officiating – a calm, judicial, truly Solomon-esque fount of rational thought and equitable punishment handed down their sanctions against the Lions. The team was given a four-year bowl ban which includes the Big Ten championship game, a loss of scholarships, a fine of $60 million to be paid out over five years, and the vacating of all wins from 1998-2011. Why those years? Because the Freeh Report indicated that was when the cover-up malfeasance began. The most head scratching part of the punishment is the 1984 like negation of games that in some cases occurred over a decade ago. This leads me to my central point: Vacating wins is stupid.
Do not get me wrong. Penn State football has been shown to be about as morally competent as Caligula’s Rome and deserves to be punished. There are absolutely NO EXCUSES for protecting a child molester. I don’t shed a tear when I hear about an animal that goes unadopted but endangering or outright hurting children infuriates me to no end. A punishment had to be handed down and parts of the sentence are fair – bowl bans, scholarships, and charitable donations. Deleting wins, however, is simply unnatural to football.
“The total playing time in a collegiate game shall be 60 minutes, divided into four periods of 15 minutes each, with one-minute intermissions between the first and second periods (first half) and between the third and fourth periods (second half). The intermission between halves shall be 20 minutes, unless altered before the game by mutual agreement of the administrations of both schools.” Those are the rules determining the length and conclusion of a football game, overtime rules notwithstanding. When a game is over, IT IS OVER. Yes there is instant replay and a better truth is sometimes determined. Yes Colorado got a fifth down. Yes Leinhart got pushed. Yes ‘Cuse missed the PAT. The officials are not perfect but shockingly few games end in controversy. So when Penn State defeated OSU 20-14 in 2011 I was upset. See, I graduated from The Ohio State University in June 2012 and I was a bit agitated that my last home game as an undergrad would be a loss. But now I am being told that Penn State did not really win that game. It doesn’t count. I call bullshit. Trust me, I was there, the Buckeyes were flat. Apart from a heart-stopping goal line stand the home team did not play up to their opponents and lost fair and square. So, NCAA, how should I feel now? That was my last home game; despite the loss, it meant something to me. Now it didn’t count? Let’s take it a step further: in 2005 and 2008 the Buckeyes were co-Big Ten Champions with Penn State. But wait! The Nittanies vacated all wins from those seasons. Can we start printing T-Shirts now that say “OSU 2008 Big Ten Champs”? What if we get sanctioned in a few years and those wins get taken from us? Did anyone win the Big Ten in 2008? It’s quicksand; there is no escape.
Vacating wins is immature. We play athletics to learn the merits of teamwork, communication, dedication, and other skills that will benefit us in the real world. Children as young as five are taught, “We win with class; we lose with class.” Well, NCAA, you lost. Honestly in this case everyone lost: Penn State students, alumni, central Pennsylvania, and the Big Ten. How we handle that loss and move forward determines our character and every act we make sets an example for today’s children. The NCAA vacating wins is like a kid arguing a play did not count because the other guy did not yell “time in” after a car drove down the street. The argument that “I wasn’t ready” doesn’t really work after you turn twelve. In college sports there are no redo’s and no do over’s. A third-string cornerback who graduated in 2004 had no idea what was going on behind closed doors on campus and should continue to believe that his games matter and count.
Honestly, vacating wins is a whisper in a hurricane: It doesn’t matter. We as fans know what happened. My used tickets didn’t evaporate this morning. I still have pictures on my computer from the OSU-PSU game in 2008. You remember that year: Ohio State had a slim lead in the fourth quarter but Terrelle Pryor fumbled on an aborted QB sneak and the Lions came back to win. I was sitting on the north end of the Horseshoe for that game, two sections over from the visiting Penn State fans. We had to take the same stairwell down and I suffered through countless flights of “WE ARE! PENN STATE!” and their fight songs. I don’t care what the NCAA says, PSU won that game and I felt awful. No doubt many Penn State students feel awful today, but that does not change how they felt that day or how they feel about their school. THEY ARE! PENN STATE! and not even the NCAA can change that.