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Dr. Saturday

Penn State faced four years with no football had it not agreed to current sanctions

Jeff Eisenberg
Dr. Saturday

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Penn State students would have been more shocked had the NCAA handed down a four-year death penalty (Getty Ima …

In an interview with Yahoo! Sports' Pat Forde on Monday, NCAA President Mark Emmert revealed that members of the Division I Board of Directors discussed much more severe penalties than the ones actually levied against Penn State.

Now we know specifically what was on the table.

Emmert and Penn State President Rodney Erickson told ESPN's "Outside the Lines" on Wednesday that the majority of school presidents favored suspending the university's football program for four years.

Instead of either accepting that unprecedented punishment or forcing the NCAA to launch a formal investigation by refusing to accept sanctions, Erickson entered covert discussions with the NCAA in hopes of reaching a compromise that did not include the death penalty. The result was a defacto plea bargain in the form of the consent agreement Penn State leaders signed. In return for the NCAA taking the "death penalty" out of the punishment, Erickson agreed not to appeal penalties that included a four-year bowl ban, the nullification of 112 wins, massive scholarship reductions and a $60 million fine.

That Erickson negotiated that deal without consulting Penn State's board of trustees did not please everyone. The board of trustees met Wednesday with Erickson to discuss whether he had the authority to agree to the penalties without its approval and released a statement begrudgingly expressing its acceptance of the deal he negotiated.

"The Board finds the punitive sanctions difficult and the process with the NCAA unfortunate," the statement read.  "But as we understand it, the alternatives were worse as confirmed by NCAA President Mark Emmert's recent statement that Penn State was likely facing a multi-year death sentence."

Erickson might have put his own job in jeopardy by not keeping the board in the loop during his discussions with the NCAA, but he deserves credit for negotiating a far better deal.

As damaging as the current penalty is to Penn State, no football for four years would have been a crippling financial setback to the university. Without revenue from TV appearances or ticket and concessions sales, the school could only have funded its Olympic sports that rely on football money via private donations or increased tuition. Maybe supporting those programs for four years would have been possible, but it might have taken Penn State football a decade or two to recover from four years off.

[Related: Pat Forde: Scandal is all around college athletics]

The fact that the NCAA was considering a four-year death penalty for Penn State football once again calls into question whether it should have the authority to punish programs whose misdeeds are actual crimes rather than rules violations.

Yes, covering up child molestation allegations against Jerry Sandusky was an incredibly reprehensible action. Yes, the men responsible deserve to be held accountable. But coach Joe Paterno is dead, school president Graham Spanier has been fired, and suspended AD Tim Curley and now-retired school vice-president Gary Schultz are awaiting trial.

What purpose would it serve or problems would it solve for the NCAA to suspend Penn State football for four seasons and send the Nittany Lions to the depths of the Big Ten for countless more? Shouldn't the court system be the ones to punish the guilty parties rather than a group of PR-conscious school presidents pandering to an enraged public by enacting vengeance against Penn State football and demanding credit for it?

The precedent set by the actual punishment is still one that may make schools squeamish, but at least that penalty is less harsh.

Players who had nothing to do with the Sandusky cover-up and want to finish out their careers at Penn State can still do so. Students enrolling this fall won't have to go four years without attending a football game. And athletes in other sports at Penn State that rely on football revenue to survive won't have to search in vain for another form of fundraising.

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