I lived and worked in central Pennsylvania for nearly seven years, covering, among other things, the Penn State football program. I met Paterno a handful of times. I saw firsthand the curmudgeonly charisma that made an entire state fall in love with him. I also saw how Paterno's influence grew beyond the bounds any football coach should enjoy.
But what the NCAA did Monday was wrong, disingenuous and misguided.
Jerry Sandusky was convicted of raping numerous boys over a period of years. The independent investigation by former FBI director Louis Freeh concluded that Paterno, former university President Graham Spanier, former Vice President Gary Schultz and athletic director Tim Curley conspired to cover up Sandusky's crimes to avoid negative publicity, at the same time allowing Sandusky to continue finding and abusing young boys.
It's a crime worthy of serious punishment, just not from the NCAA.
Curley and Schultz are facing criminal charges for their roles in the scandal. Spanier may be joining them. There will also be lawsuits filed by the victims and their families. I hope they get every penny they can.
The NCAA's decision to fine Penn State $60 million, reduce scholarships, ban the football team from postseason play and vacate all wins from 1998-2011 smacks of grandstanding. It's a chance for the NCAA to take high profile action on a matter most people agree is disgusting - big splash, little risk.
According to NCAA President Mark Emmert's page on the NCAA website, the organization's mission is, "to be an integral part of higher education and to focus on the development of our student-athletes."
Penn State had a sterling record of graduating players and playing within recruiting rules during the Paterno era. You know, the kind of stuff the NCAA is responsible for enforcing.
Penn State coach Joe Paterno is seen in an Oct. 22, 2011, file photo. (AP file photo)
I've asked numerous people why the NCAA should punish Penn State. The best answer I've heard is they have to because they've punished other schools for much lesser crimes.
True, Ohio State players getting free tattoos or Reggie Bush taking money from an agent is far less serious than the horrors that happened at Penn State. Those violations also fall under the NCAA jurisdiction.
The sex abuse scandal at Penn State is a criminal/civil matter. The NCAA punishment is the equivalent of getting suspended from school for not cleaning your bedroom.
Even worse, the NCAA's self-described "unprecedented" penalty does not punish anyone who was actually involved in the cover-up. The current Penn State coaches and players will be banned from postseason play for the next four years, but that is just the beginning.
The $60 million fine could mean other sports like volleyball, tennis and wrestling (the sports that don't make money) could be forced to cut their budgets. What did those coaches and athletes do to deserve that? And how is the NCAA focusing on the development of student-athletes?
You know who gets off without any punishment? The board of trustees, whose job it was to make sure the people in charge of the university weren't abusing their power. They failed miserably but get to keep their jobs.
If I ran the NCAA, I would have offered Penn State an ultimatum: either the trustees resign or the program gets the death penalty. Sure, it might not be within the NCAA's jurisdiction to get people fired, but at least I'd be going after the right people.
However, I do agree with vacating Penn State's 111 wins between 1998 and 2011. It wipes out Paterno's record most wins in major college football history. It punishes Paterno and his legacy, which we have learned was the thing he cared about more than anything else.