OK, first of all, you people at the NCAA are gutless shitbags. I know you're probably spending this morning in an Indianapolis conference room patting each other on the back and tugging each other's cocks and ordering EXTRA Einstein bagels for everyone for a job well done (why not, you've got $60 million in bureaucratic charity funds to spend), but you're still gutless shitbags. You gave Penn State everything but the death penalty specifically so they would be encouraged to shut down the program themselves. I see what you did there. You handed down enough meaty punishment for everyone to nod along in approval, but you didn't cross the line and risk a backlash by destroying the program outright by your own hand. You buffed your image nicely this morning, yes you did.
Because that's what NCAA sanctions are, when you get right down to it. They're an exercise in branding. Punishment time is the only time people really pay attention to the NCAA. It's the NCAA's sax solo. Punishing a school is what helps the NCAA justify its existence to people, to say to the country, "WE ARE IN CONTROL HERE, EVERYONE." There's a certain reaction it's looking for from the general public in response to those sanctions. They're the ones you might've read in last night's CBS report on the school's fine:
A source told CBS News correspondent Armen Keteyian that Penn State will suffer "unprecedented" punishment
"This is a fine like no fine before [...]"
"I've never seen anything like it [...]"
That second quote is the perfect NCAA response quote. "Why, I've never seen bureaucracy be so bureaucratic!" It's important to the NCAA that you be properly shocked and awed by the totality of its justice system. There was no way they were gonna miss out on shitting all over Penn State when shitting on Penn State makes for such good business these days. (Take it from us Deadspin folk. We know how to milk that titty for all it's worth.)
This was cynical shit. I couldn't give two fucks what happens to the football team—dress them in white unitards and make them a French mime troop, for all I care—but there's nothing more ridiculous than watching the NCAA parade around its values and make frowny faces on national television, months and months after the scandal broke (and years and years after evil was allowed to take root). Blowing up Penn State gives perfect cover for every other big football school that is now, to use NCAA president Mark Emmert's phrase, "too big to fail," which describes all of them, and which describes the NCAA, too, while we're at it. It creates the illusion that everything is on the up-and-up again, and that other schools will see Penn State and totally get it now (they won't). In its own stupid way, it's the perfect end point for the Penn State scandal: rotten institution punishes institutional rot.
The next great college sports scandal isn't gonna be at Penn State. It'll be at some other asshole school where the head coach still has too much power and the football program still makes too much money. There's no "stark wake-up call." The system is still fucked, and nothing the NCAA did today will do anything to change that. It only serves to extend the fucked-upness a touch longer. Among the many sick ironies of the Penn State saga is the fact that it was horrible enough to be considered by everyone a terrific anomaly. It wasn't. Sandusky's crime was, but the scandal that ensued was about concentrated power and institutional capture and all the shitty things enabled by the durable belief that the goals of big-time sports and higher education are at all reconcilable. The next great college sports scandal won't be about child rape. It'll be a different kind of awful. A school will get caught in a Bulgarian sex slave ring. A coach will turn out to be embezzling funds from AIDS babies. An AD will turn out to have ties to the Hezbollah. And whenever that new scandal happens, you can bet the NCAA will be there again, ready to put a band-aid on an amputated head.