Yesterday's announcement of the Penn State football program's future was considered by some a "death sentence" for the former powerhouse. A decision with many harsh consequences, including $60 million in fines and dethroning Joe Paterno as the winningest football coach in NCAA history.
Some analysts and reporters are saying that the ruling was too harsh, and that any sort of recovery will be a slow and grueling process. The Paterno family released a public statement emphasizing the unfair ruling and the detrimental effects for the student body.
Gary Belsky, former editor of ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com/Insider, explains the complications of the ruling and the precedents set forth by the NCAA sanctions. He believes that the penalties represented a larger message that the NCAA wanted to send to football programs across the country.
"I think they were, in the main, appropriate," Belsky says. "The message was that college football, college sports in general, at the Division I level, has gotten out of control. It's become a big business [that] has very little to do with the whole concept of student athletics." Teams rake in millions of dollars of revenue in what is a multi-billion-dollar enterprise.
"I think what Emmert was trying to say was that there needs to be a recalibration throughout college sports in terms of the seriousness with which people take these games," Belsky says. "Having said that, the NCAA oversees a gigantic business, and it's going to be hard for people to unwind from the stakes that such a business requires people to invest."
"Having spent 14 years covering sports and being involved in the sporting industry, it's hard to imagine a bigger cesspool than major college athletics," he says. "The level of hypocrisy and dissonance from what is going on versus what people pretend is going on is astounding."
In the coming months, graduating high school student athletes will have to wonder whether or not they will consider accepting an offer to play at Penn State. Belsky has some advice for them. "I would advise them to think of themselves as being a different grand experiment, which is trying to put back some of the cleanliness into major college football," Belsky says.
"They can think of themselves as part of an enterprise that's trying to actually return college football to its probably theoretical roots — it's always been a little bit scummy — but I think there's at least a chance to take Penn State and use it as an example of, 'Hey, we're here just to play sports and learn the lessons from sports that we're supposed to learn.'"