Former University of Washington president Mark Emmert, now president of the NCAA, found himself at the center of the Jerry Sandusky/Penn State child molestation scandal this morning, announcing severe penalties for the school that will likely cripple its football program over the next five years - if not longer. "The sanctions needed to reflect our goals of providing cultural change," said Emmert at a press conference announcing the disciplinary action this morning in Indianapolis, according to the Associated Press.
"Against this backdrop, Penn State accepts the penalties and corrective actions announced today by the NCAA," Penn State President Rodney Erickson said in a statement cited by the AP. "With today's announcement and the action it requires of us, the University takes a significant step forward."
While penalties were certainly expected in the scandal, the severity of the punishment handed down by Emmert has drawn varied response. Not surprisingly, given the egregious nature of the Sandusky scandal and years-long cover up mounted by Penn State's highest ranking leaders, many have applauded the decision. Others, however, noting inconsistencies with the way the NCAA has dealt with other disciplinary situations over the years, and the fact that people who had nothing to do with the Sandusky scandal or Joe Paterno's efforts to conceal it will now bear the brunt of the punishment, are openly questioning Emmert's decision.
First and foremost, there's Joe Paterno's family, which released a statement calling the move a "panicked response to the public's understandable revulsion."
Perhaps such statements are expected from the Paterno family, but even some within the national media have questioned the penalties levied against Penn State by Emmert.
Children were raped. Lives were destroyed. High-level administrators stood back and enabled the crimes. A once-revered coach betrayed his followers.
But the legacy of the Penn State scandal will no longer be Jerry Sandusky's heinous crimes or the courageous victims who stood up to him. Thanks to a brazen power play and a carefully orchestrated p.r. extravaganza, this human tragedy will take a backseat over the next four years (or longer) to a more trivial narrative: Whether Penn State football can recover from crippling NCAA sanctions.
For his part, Emmert said during this morning's presser: ""Football will never again be placed ahead of educating, nurturing and protecting young people."
That's probably a pipe dream, of course, but it's the right tone to set given the extent of the tragedy at hand - whether you agree with the penalty or not.