Death Penalty May Have Hurt Penn State Less

When the Joe Paterno statue was taken down outside Beaver Stadium on Penn State’s campus Sunday, a small portion of the recent scandal’s visibility was also removed. No longer would people be able to gaze upon a symbol whose new meaning is deception and human indecency.

But sanctions handed out to Penn State this morning ensured that the football program will continue to serve as a public reminder of those horrible acts conducted by Jerry Sandusky and the subsequent cover up by Penn State officials.

NCAA President Mark Emmert announced that Penn State will be penalized with a $60 million fine, a four-year football postseason ban and vacation of all wins since 1998. The school also must reduce its number of scholarships from 25 to 15 per year for four years.

It was a harsh penalty, but it wasn’t the death penalty. That would have meant football at Penn State would have been suspended completely for up to four years.

During the announcement this morning, Emmert said that the death penalty would have hurt too many innocent people. “Suspension of the football program would bring with it significant unintended harm to many who had nothing to do with this case. The sanctions we have crafted are more focused and impactful than that blanket penalty.”

Many believe that Penn State got lucky in not receiving the death penalty. But I’m not so sure. These sanctions may actually be more impactful than the death penalty when it comes to the football program and public perception of the university. Penn State must now endure the “living-death penalty.”

With these actions, the NCAA is doing more than just keeping the football program from playing in the postseason and limiting recruiting and finances. These sanctions will keep the football program in full view of public scrutiny as it carries out its sentence. It is a public shaming stemming from the infamy that Penn State officials brought on themselves. The Nittany Lion will be shut into the stockade and the world will decide whether or not to let the tomatoes fly.

If the football program was completely shut down for a few years, the talk of Penn State football in any media capacity would die off quickly. There would be no football to speak of. Beaver stadium would be empty every Saturday and no one would feel the usual buzz in the air of a fall day in Happy Valley. Maybe this scenario of talking about nothing would work in a plot line of Seinfeld, but not for the national media. It would be an unsettling quietness, but it would be quiet nonetheless.

Then in a few years, Penn State would return to playing football and recruiting players like it always has. It would be a rebirth of football in State College, rising from the ashes and establishing a new identity forged in the absence of football. Their difficult sentence would be over and a new page would turn, helping people to forget about the previous chapters written before it.

The death penalty would have meant a fresh start eventually.

Instead, Penn State will begin a four-year span of meaningless football and public scrutiny. There will be no break from media analysis for the football program. There will be no fresh starts. There will be no bowl games, no Big Ten Championships and no hope to make the NCAA playoff when it begins in 2014. But there will be plenty of time each Saturday for broadcasters to talk about the events leading to the current situation. Viewers at home and at Penn State games will witness the walking-dead Nittany Lions carry out their penalty every week of the season. Talk may die down as time goes on, but the scandal will always be the 800-pound gorilla in Beaver Stadium.

Public perception of Penn State football won’t be helped by a mediocre team, either. With the loss of scholarships and inability to play for Big Ten Championships, National Championships and bowl games, the talent wells for Happy Valley are bound to hit drought conditions. Elite players won’t want to come to Penn State to play for nothing. These young men will play for Penn State’s competition and make the Nittany Lions’ road to success on the field that much harder.

The football team will be bled to death slowly for the next four years and beyond as fewer and fewer top recruits commit. A team of walk-ons just won’t win many games. In the coming years, Penn State will set a different precedent besides the sanctions imposed against them: Never in college football history will such a pedestrian team get so much media attention.

But public perception and sanctions aside, I believe Penn State will recover from this someday. The next decade will be an uphill crawl for everyone who represents the university – the football team, students, alumni and fans (myself included). Success with honor may not have meant anything to Jerry Sandusky, Joe Paterno and other Penn State brass, but it still means something to the rest of us and it’s our duty not to forget what happened while still moving on to set a new standard of excellence.

Football at Penn State will be relevant some day in the future, but it will be the most publicly scrutinized return to relevance in the history of college football.

Will Centre County Locals Doom Sandusky?

Today, the final jurors were picked for the Jerry Sandusky sexual misconduct trial. The 12 jurors and four alternates were decided today and yesterday for the trial that’s set to begin on Monday, June 11.

More than 600 jury duty summonses were sent out to residents in Centre County, where Penn State University is located. The judge said before jury selection that people with Penn State connections would not automatically disqualify potential jurors, just as they could pledge to be impartial. So it came as no surprise that many of the jurors have Penn State ties.

According to reports from various media outlets, at least four of the first nine jurors selected had some kind of direct Penn State connection and all four of the jurors selected today said they had ties to the school. One is a full professor at Penn State. Another is an administrative assistant and a dance teacher at the continuing education program at the school.

The jury also includes a Penn State senior, a man with bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the school and a woman who has been a football season ticket holder since the 1970s. One of the alternate jurors selected is a woman in her 30s who graduated from Penn State in 2007 with a degree in human development. There are also a handful of people who claim to have no ties to Penn State or Sandusky.

For a detailed breakdown of all the jurors, here’s a great place.

My initial gut reaction told me that I don’t trust Centre County residents to have the ability to be completely impartial in this case. I believed that anyone who lives or works in Centre County probably has a strong, negative opinion regarding Jerry Sandusky.  I thought a jury made up of locals would help the prosecution in the end. It even seemed reasonable to think that any one of these jurors could have lied about being impartial for the chance to lock up Sandusky for life.

After all, Penn State is the life-blood and driving force behind the population in Centre County. Anything that negatively affects Penn State negatively affects Centre County. Penn State has a bigger alumni association than any other school and many of them reside in that region. And even if you live there and don’t have a direct connection with the university, odds are good you are a fan of the football program and its late coach Joe Paterno.

Paterno, one of the most prominent and respected people in the history of Penn State, was fired because of the Sandusky allegations. He died of cancer shortly after and some believe it was because he lost the will to fight his disease with football no longer in his life. If you’re old enough to be a juror for this trial, you’re old enough to know how much Joe Paterno meant to the university and the surrounding area. Even if you agreed with Paterno’s firing, it’s difficult to ignore that Sandusky was the root of it.

BUT…

Just because Centre County has such a huge contingent of Penn State and Joe Paterno fans doesn’t mean people there can’t be impartial. The defense wanted to keep the jury limited to locals for a reason. It wanted Centre County residents because they would have a better understanding of the case and because Centre County has a greater population of well-educated individuals than other rural, central Pennsylvania regions. The defense decided it would benefit Sandusky more to have more educated people with Penn State pride than less educated ones without it.

That strategy may pay off for Sandusky.

Even if there are people on the jury who lied about their impartiality, could it be possible that all of them did? Maybe, but it’s unlikely.

The fact is, it takes only one person to hang a jury. If Sandusky’s defense can convince just one person on that panel that he’s innocent, he might have a chance. But can Sandusky’s defense convince every juror he’s innocent on all 52 counts?

I highly doubt it, even if there is a lack of physical evidence.

The odds are stacked against Sandusky that he’ll get off scot-free. But if by some unlikely turn of events he comes out of this trial as a free man, move over Lou Gehrig. Sandusky will be latest ‘luckiest man of the face of the earth.’

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