When it came out that the NCAA was going to issue sanctions against Penn State, I was surprised--not that the NCAA was going to drop the hammer, but that it opted to do so with two separate federal investigations still well underway. It made me wonder--what did the NCAA find that was so egregious that it had to act now. Well, the answer seems to have come loud and clear in the form of a penalty that I didn't expect--the NCAA's decision to strip Penn State of every single game it won from 1998 to 2011. The only plausible conclusion one can draw is that the NCAA felt that if there was any sort of institutional control in Happy Valley, Joe Paterno would have been fired in 1998, when Jerry Sandusky was first caught molesting a boy in a locker room. And reading the Freeh report, it's hard not to agree.
For those who missed it, Paterno's assistants knew that Sandusky was taking boys into the shower for some time before 1998--but no one reported it. Not only that, but one of Sandusky's victims testified that longtime assistant Tom Bradley--who eventually went on to become interim coach for the last four games of the 2011 season--saw Sandusky taking him into the shower and was suspicious enough that he watched them for the whole time they were in the shower. Which means there may have been any number of incidents of abuse that had gone unreported.
Apparently the NCAA concluded that if then-president Graham Spanier and athletic director Tim Curley had any sort of control over the program, once they learned this they would have fired Paterno on the spot. It's almost impossible to think that there would be any school where failing to report potential child abuse isn't a firing offense. But apparently there was one--Penn State. And it very nearly got them the death penalty--school president Rodney Erickson said that Penn State was staring down the barrel of having the football program shut down for four years if it didn't accept today's sanctions.
It can no longer be seriously debated--Joe Paterno has gone from the embodiment of what a collegiate program should be to the embodiment of a "win at all costs" mentality.