University of Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez was among those who didn't think the NCAA would sentence the Penn State football program to the death penalty in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse case.
Alvarez generally avoided speaking for the record about the episode in recent weeks, but he felt strongly that forcing the Nittany Lions to scuttle one or more seasons of football would put undue stress — scheduling, financial and public relations — on the other 11 Big Ten Conference members.
"The collateral damage is mind-boggling," he said during an interview earlier this month. "That's why I just don't see it."
Alvarez's instincts proved prescient Monday when the NCAA allowed Penn State to keep its once-storied football program, but hammered it with such unprecedented force that it doesn't seem far removed from its 1987 application of the death penalty to Southern Methodist for a litany of football booster-related violations.
Penn State was fined $60 million, its football program banned from postseason play for four years, its annual football scholarship limit cut by 40 over the next four years and its athletic department placed on probation for five years.
One day after Penn State officials dismantled a statue of late football coach Joe Paterno, the NCAA also vacated 111 of his victories from 1998 to 2011, moving him from No. 1 on the list to No. 5. That's the period in which it's believed Sandusky was allowed to abuse young boys thanks to a cover-up orchestrated by Paterno and three other high-ranking school officials.
Sandusky, a former defensive assistant under Paterno, awaits sentencing after being found guilty of 45 counts of sexual abuse.
The Big Ten followed up with its own sanctions, saying Penn State wouldn't be allowed to share in bowl revenues while its postseason ban is in place. That translates to approximately $13 million.
Alvarez and UW interim chancellor David Ward released a joint statement Monday in which they agreed the sanctions levied against Penn State were appropriate.
"We remain hopeful that the pain and suffering endured by the victims in this case will not go unheeded," the statement read. "We must find ways to learn from the mistakes of the past, and we must never lose sight of our shared institutional responsibility to act with openness and integrity."
It remains to be seen if Alvarez or football coach Bret Bielema will address the sensitive perception that UW stands to benefit from the Penn State fallout. It's a question sure to be posed later this week when the annual Big Ten football media days are staged Thursday and Friday in Chicago.
The defending league champion Badgers are strongly favored in the Leaders Division in part because two rivals — Penn State and Ohio State — are banned by the NCAA from participating in the Big Ten title game in 2012.
The Buckeyes were sanctioned in December for a series of major rules violations, including the improper sale of memorabilia, improper payments from boosters to players and dubious part-time jobs enlisted for players.
Meanwhile, it's possible UW could be a landing spot for Penn State players and/or committed recruits. In another crippling blow, the NCAA ruled Monday football players could transfer from Happy Valley to another program and not have to sit out a year, as per the current rules.
Alvarez, who coached the Badgers from 1990 to 2005, and Bielema will not have their career records impacted by Paterno's punishment. The Big Ten differentiates between games vacated and those forfeited, meaning that no one gets credit for the games removed from Paterno's resume.
Due to the NCAA ruling, Paterno's last official victory was a 35-10 decision over UW on Nov. 22, 1997 in State College, Pa. Mike McQueary, who told a grand jury that he witnessed Sandusky sexually assaulting a young boy in a campus shower in 2002, was the Nittany Lions' quarterback in the game.