But football was a diversion, Paterno a distant, charismatic figurehead that might as well have been a movie character for all our actual interaction with him. The real work being done at Penn State happens during the week and is carried out by thousands upon thousands of professors and advisers.
That any college might endeavor to be "known for its football team" or to attract students based on a few games each fall is sad.
The lesson Emmert needed to send was not that misbehaving would cause you to suffer more losses. That, after what happened to those boys, shouldn't even be in the discussion. This was bigger than what happens on the field.
The lesson should have been this: if your football coach is making four or five or six times the president, and his top assistant is making double what your top professors get, your institution has gone astray. If the president does not actually have the ability to fire the football coach -- as Penn State's Graham Spanier
did not, and other presidents currently do not -- something is wrong.
If your school is in any way dependent on finding its pride in scores of intercollegiate competition, if students who are exceptionally athletic are held to a different standard in the classroom and thereby given a less effective education, if a big chunk of the fundraising your school does aims to add another whirlpool to a locker room, it's time to re-evaluate.
Emmert actually said the right things: "One of the grave dangers stemming from our love of sports is that the sports themselves can become too big to fail, indeed, too big to even challenge. The result can be an erosion of academic values that are replaced by the value of hero worship and winning at all costs. All involved in intercollegiate athletics must be watchful that programs and individuals do not overwhelm the values of higher education."
Exactly. So why punish Penn State by making it less able to win football games? That shouldn't matter. The $60 million fine -- to be set aside for "external programs preventing child sexual abuse or assisting victims" -- was warranted, and should be doubled or tripled. Make Penn State refocus its priorities. And then push others to do the same. Send a message that winning and losing is a moot point, that growing big, powerful programs is outside the mission of any NCAA member.
Someone else can handle the task of training elite, soon-to-be-millionaire athletes in football and men's basketball. Universities can be known for teaching students, a few of whom happen to play football each Saturday.