On Monday morning, NCAA President Mark Emmert stopped just short of dropping the death penalty on the Penn State football program, and instead implemented what could be thought of as a "cut everything off and leave them alive" penalty instead.
As has been reported just about everywhere, Emmert reacted to the Jerry Sandusky scandal and the corresponding Freeh Report by sending the strongest possible message: A four-year bowl ban, severe scholarship cuts over the same amount of time, a $60 million fine to be paid over five years that will fund an endowment to help the victims of child sex abuse, and the vacation of all Penn State wins from 1998-2011. If you care about such things (which I do not at this point), losing those wins takes Joe Paterno from the winningest all-time head coach in college football history and puts him out of the top 10 entirely.
In addition, Emmert ruled that any current Penn State player or signed recruit may leave the program without sanctions, and that schools who accept those transfers will receive eligibility waivers so that they will not have to immediately bump other scholarship athletes from their rosters. Basically, Emmert is allowing the rest of the NCAA to plunder Penn State's football team without let or hindrance.
[Dan Wetzel: NCAA sanctions will cripple Penn State for years]
These punishments are understandable, but in a much smaller and less important sense, the task left for current head coach Bill O'Brien just got even tougher than it was when the former New England Patriots offensive coordinator accepted the job as Paterno's official replacement on Jan. 6, 2012. To his credit -- after all, college coaches are supposed to be educators and builders of men, if you can say that with a straight face at this point -- O'Brien has already said in a statement that he's staying with Penn State, and that these obstacles will not change his mind.
Today we receive a very harsh penalty from the NCAA and as Head Coach of the Nittany Lions football program, I will do everything in my power to not only comply, but help guide the University forward to become a national leader in ethics, compliance and operational excellence. I knew when I accepted the position that there would be tough times ahead. But I am committed for the long term to Penn State and our student athletes.
I was then and I remain convinced that our student athletes are the best in the country. I could not be more proud to lead this team and these courageous and humble young men into the upcoming 2012 season. Together we are committed to building a better athletic program and university.
Good for O'Brien. Penn State needs people of conscience to deal with the fallout of the ugliest and most disastrous scandal in the history of college sports, and since their football program has been left on life support, someone's got to mind what's left of the store. To his credit, O'Brien has shown a similar commitment all the way back to the week of the Super Bowl in late January and early February, when he was putting together New England's offensive game plan and Penn State's new coaching staff and recruiting class at the same time.
[Rivals.com: Recruiting impact of Penn State sanctions]
"In coaching, when opportunities arise, you never really know when that's going to happen," O'Brien said on Jan. 31, during the pregame media crush. "So when the Penn State job was offered to me, or we first started talking about the job, I just realized right away what a special place that was. I felt like I could go in there and have an effect with our staff there and have an effect on some 17-year-old guys and watch them grow into 22-year-old men and graduate with a great degree. So at the end of the day, my wife and I and our family, we decided it was an opportunity we couldn't pass up."
In short, Bill O'Brien seems to understand (as precious few of his colleagues do) that college coaching is supposed to be about much more than the game. Right now, that's the focus which matters.
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