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The National, 7/23/12: BOOM.

We'll bypass our usual witty caption here, because this is serious.  (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
We'll bypass our usual witty caption here, because this is serious. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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The Only Topic For Today: The boom has been lowered, and Happy Valley is a smoking ruin. There's a lot to get to here, and after the jump we'll get to the impact of each individual sanction, but first we have to address the fact that the NCAA did anything at all and what that means.

The most important part of Mark Emmert's announcement is that Penn State signed a consent decree. What this means is that Penn State agreed to everything with the full knowledge that the NCAA was not following its normal policies and procedures. This is pretty important. First, it essentially makes the NCAA's overstepping of its own bounds effectively irrelevant in terms of its future applicability. It does not in any way serve as any sort of legal test as to whether the NCAA can impose these sort of penalties by fiat; we won't be able to get a legal determination as to whether the NCAA can legally do so until they do this to some other school and that school challenges the decision in the courts, because Penn State's not going to do it. Further, in their authorization for Emmert to act, the NCAA only authorized him to enter into a consent decree. Had Penn State refused to sign off on it this would have moved into the normal enforcement procedure, at which point it's questionable as to whether they'd have truly been able to massage this enough to take action.

Indeed, in the absence of the consent decree this article would have been a lot different; I spent most of yesterday (when we kinda knew what was going to happen this morning, but weren't sure of the mechanism) discussing on Twitter how the NCAA was violating its own bylaws in order to act. Specifically, the NCAA's bylaws prohibit changes to their standard enforcement policies and procedures without legislative action by the membership as a whole, and absolutely require a Letter of Inquiry, a response from the school, and a hearing.

But Penn State has in effect confessed to a crime for which the evidence might have been a little sketchy in order to save themselves the agony of drawn-out legal proceedings, and will be refusing to appeal. (Theoretically they could turn around and do so, but it's patently obvious that in an effort to repair their reputation and show contrition for the misdeeds of their administration, Penn State is perfectly content to accept these penalties.) There are a lot of people arguing that the NCAA has overstepped, has set bad precedent, has injected themselves into something for which they had no warrant. On a certain level, this is true; on another, it completely ignores the fact that the only thing the NCAA really did here was offer Penn State a way to put this behind them (at least from an athletics perspective).

This has also been characterized as "worse than the death penalty", and that's absolutely ridiculous. There's one aspect of the death penalty which truly would have been egregiously unfair, and that's the loss of revenue to local businesses that would have ensued in the absence of football. Add in all the other negative impacts of actually cancelling football, and while the penalties announced do seriously damage the future of Penn State football, to claim they're "worse" than the death penalty is stupid. So stupid that "stupid" really requires a vulgar adjectivial modifier.

And now, the damage:

A fine of 60 million dollars, to be placed in an endowment for programs preventing child sexual abuse and/or assisting the victims of same. The fine, equal to one year worth of football revenue, is structured as five annual $12M payments, though Penn State can accelerate those payments to get them out of the way if they choose. The endowment may NOT be used to fund programs administered by the university itself; the university also may not reduce or eliminate any currently sponsored athletic team in order to fund the payment of the fine.

Four-year postseason ban: No bowl games or Big Ten Championship Games in 2012-2015 (not like they're going to be bowl eligible anyway, as we shall see).

Scholarships nuked: In short, Penn State will be limited to 65 scholarships per year through the 2017 season. In effect, Penn State is an FCS program for the next six seasons.

Five years of probation: this includes the appointment, at Penn State's expense, of an actual NCAA employee to reside on campus and oversee compliance.

Penn State vacates every win from 1998-2011. Joe Paterno is no longer the winningest coach in FBS history. He's no longer in the top 10 winningest football coaches ever. 111 Penn State wins... gone.

Waiver of transfer rules: Any PSU player may transfer out without having to sit out a year, as expected. More importantly, however, is that the NCAA appears set to give schools accepting PSU transfers waivers on scholarship limits this season, to be "paid back" next year.

Individual penalties: Pointless gesture in which the NCAA reserves the right to punish individuals involved in the scandal, as though any of them are ever going to work in college athletics again.

Adoption of all recommendations of Chapter 10 the Freeh Report: Penn State must comply with those recommendations by the end of 2013.

Implementation of Athletics Integrity Agreement: This refers to recommendations of Chapter 5 of the Freeh Report. This part's pretty complex, but it obligates Penn State to vastly overhaul its compliance program, both in reference to NCAA regulations and the Clery Act, as well as a training and education component, a code of conduct, and quarterly audits of the program's compliance for five years.

Death Penalty still on the table: If Penn State violates any of this, they're going to get drilled.

The Big Ten added its own sanctions on top of all this, most importantly the forfeiture of all shared bowl revenue for the next five years. Penn State's share of conference bowl revenue will be donated to childrens' charities. They'll be ineligible for the conference championship, of course, and the university has been censured by the conference -- meaning that for five years, they will have no say in the operation of the conference. Lastly, the Big Ten is expected to decline enforcement of the conference's intra-conference transfer rules for Penn State football players. Whoof.

Also of note is that within the consent decree, Penn State explicitly accepts the findings of the Freeh Report, and in so doing effectively accepts liability for pretty much everything. That will make the civil lawsuits a smoking dumpster fire.

So what's this all mean, really? I don't think, in a vacuum, this was the NCAA's battle, and I'm a little uncomfortable with the NCAA punishing a member institution for things which the NCAA isn't actually in place to police. However, I also accept and even support the proposition that the NCAA does bear the responsibility of reining in the excesses of big-time college athletics. At its heart, the NCAA truly exists to serve a paradigm which is most embraced by Division III: amateurism, the idea of students who are enrolled at a university engaging in athletic competition as an avocation. That the top of the mountain is effectively a professional league whose players aren't actually paid is an anomaly within the structure of the organization.

Put another way, if I were on the board of a country club and one of the club's members was responsible for something like this, I think I'd want to be able to take real measures to express the club's disapproval. So I can't fault the NCAA for acting, even though I realize that there's a cynical public-relations component at play alongside the very real desire to effect change in the system. I will say this: I think that as much as people want to accuse the NCAA of hypocrisy and cynicism here, a lot of people are just as guilty of the same. We want someone to do something about offenses, but when it comes time for the NCAA to levy punishment we whine about the inequity of it. We bitch about how it's not fair to punish this year's class for something a coach did three years ago at the very same time we mock the only actual penalty that can be applied to things which happened three years ago (vacating wins). There's only one way to truly punish an institution for institutional failures, and that's to punish the people who are there in the here and now. The way some people are reacting to the NCAA in reference to all of this, one gets the impression they think the NCAA should never take action against an institution... ever. I'd really like someone to come up with a more equitable means of punishing an institution for malfeasance. Got any ideas?

One last thing: let's be clear here. Penn State is going to survive this. They are a member of a strong and united conference, as opposed to being in a situation where they're about to be consigned to wandering in the mid-major wilderness. Their historical relevance vastly outstrips SMU's relevance at the time they were hit with the death penalty. They are the flagship university of a massive state university system with an outrageous number of wealthy alumni, not a small private school with a small number of ridiculously wealthy alumni. Penn State will get out from under this, and will probably be competitive again by 2020.