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File | Associated Press
This Dec. 28, 2007, photo shows Penn State's Tyrell Sales spiking a football over the crossbar following a team photo day at the Alamodome in San Antonio.

Getting it right

Mark the date down in red, and then circle it twice: July 23, 2012.

The NCAA gets something right. Mostly right. Just a smidgen to the left (or right) of complete and utter right-ness.

Film at 11.

Roll the cameras, boys and girls, because if the NCAA didn't send the one message that would shake college football's corrupt culture to its core -- the death penalty -- it likely sent enough of one when it handed down its judgment on the horror at Penn State. And it did it with some actual thought attached to it, punishing those who most needed to be punished and doing so to a degree that ought to at least give pause to any school tempted ever again to cede doing what's right to doing what plumps up your athletic budget.

A $60 million hit to the wallet, the funds to be paid into an endowment for external programs for preventing child abuse. A four-year football postseason ban and 20-scholarship-per-year reduction over that time. And vacation of all wins dating to 1998, when Penn State first started covering for the sexual predator in its midst.

The money alone ought to get everyone's attention -- this is a landscape both shaped, and profoundly warped, by avarice -- but the vacating of all those wins sends its own message. That goes to legacy, and legacy is what feeds this monster. Not to mention that it was protecting the legacy that led Joe Paterno, Graham Spanier, Tim Curley and Gary Schultz to allow Jerry Sandusky free run of their campus long after they knew what he was.

So there goes the legacy, in one fell swoop. And there goes Paterno's status as college football's winningest coach. And that is as it should be.

And the bowl ban and scholarship reduction?

That is as it should be, too.

There are those who will say that part of it's unfair, that punishing those who had nothing to do with the crimes of Sandusky, Paterno, Spanier et al isn't justice but vengeance. They'll even say the NCAA should have stayed out of this altogether, that it's a criminal matter out of its jurisdiction.

There may be some truth to that, but it misses the point. If the NCAA stays out of it, it's a tacit acknowledgment that what happened at Penn State had nothing to do with football. And the bald truth is it had everything to do with football.

Without football, Jerry Sandusky is gone from campus in 1998, the first time one of his victims lodged a complaint. Without the desire to protect the legacy that fed an economic juggernaut, Sandusky isn't free to use his Penn State connections to prey on children for the next dozen years. If Paterno, Spanier, Curley and Schultz were his enablers, football was the true enabler.

So, yes, it was entirely appropriate for the NCAA to act on this, unfortunate as that is for the current players and coaches. After all, if it doesn't keep the program's mitts out the bowl pie for a time, what's the message here? That the economics of all this really and truly are paramount above everything, including simple human decency?

There's been entirely too much of that already, it seems to me. Just ask any of Jerry Sandusky's haunted victims.

Ben Smith's blog.

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