The remaining embers of a Penn State football program torched and toppled in the wake of a horrific scandal have been hosed away. This was a mess in need of cleanup, and NCAA president Mark Emmert dived into the role of janitor.
Emmert on Monday not only penalized the school but also made an effort to restore sanity to a culture of arrogance and self-protective silence that for decades under former coach Joe Paterno enabled former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky to molest young boys.
The measures were strong indeed, from the $60 million fine to the four-year ban on postseason play to the reduction of annual scholarships from 25 to 15 to the vacating of all wins from 1998 through 2011.
It was a potent use of power by Emmert, who acted after examining a report issued recently by former FBI director Louis Freeh. Moreover, Emmert's action is unprecedented in its scope -- and brazen in its nature insofar as it represents the first presidential sanctioning in NCAA history.
And yet, his actions were more those of a man, with approval from the Division I board of directors (22 college presidents and chancellors), motivated as much by disgust and anger as by a desire to repair the damage.
The penalties, on a visceral level, were not at all outrageous. Horrible crimes took place under the umbrella of Penn State football. Yet there is a feeling of emptiness in knowing the sanctions will more profoundly affect folks unassociated
Paterno's legacy already is tainted and scarred, his years of sainted reverence exposed as a sham. So much of what he claimed to represent -- honesty, integrity, piety and trust -- was a lie. Losing his status as football's all-time winningest coach was absolutely appropriate. His statue was removed Sunday morning. Good riddance.
But Paterno, the most powerful man in the state and someone who ignored his moral obligation in hopes of preserving what he had built, is dead. He died six months ago of lung cancer, at age 85.
Sandusky, the longtime defensive coordinator who was Paterno's chief lieutenant for so many years, was convicted last month on 45 of 48 charges, involving 10 victims. Sandusky already has had his day in court. Facing a sentence of at least 60 years and a maximum of 442, he knows he will die in prison.
And those representing Penn State administration -- particularly former president Graham Spanier, former vice president Gary Schultz and former athletic director Tim Curley -- already are, or possibly could be, facing criminal prosecution.
The penalties meted out Monday were less about these five men than about officially discrediting their work. All benefited, financially and professionally, from the success of Penn State football. None, however, had a spine.
So the brunt of this punishment lands on the heads of those now in charge at Penn State, the new regime. It takes a bite out of people who have the formidable job of rebuilding a demolished football program while, moreover, creating a completely new and more responsible culture.
The procession of young boys molested by Sandusky, a man they initially perceived as an idol, surely will react with varying degrees of satisfaction. They've lived with bitterness and betrayal. And, perhaps worse, the despair that comes with realizing no one responded to their screams of agony.
Those children have lost something they'll never get back. They are changed forever.
Somebody had to pay, though, even if payment comes late. The institution needed to pay dearly for failing those who were its number one priority: the students.
Emmert on Monday power-washed the ashes of the past, clearing the landscape for Penn State's new power structure -- which upon installation surely expected severe punishment. This is a much-needed fresh start, and it's going to take years to bear fruit.
This punishment also is a warning to other institutions to check their culture.
Is the coach insulated and too mighty? Yes, in many cases.
Is the school preoccupied with profits generated by sports? Yes, in nearly every case.
Successful coaches are so powerful because they drive a huge economic engine. Paterno was Penn State's leading promotional symbol, minting money for the school. This could not be imperiled by turning in a perverted assistant.
So in that regard, it's refreshing to see the NCAA president take such harsh action. Whenever kids are violated, the gloves should come off.
It's disturbing, however, that Emmert could unilaterally act as judge, jury and jailer -- based on the Freeh report, which is independent of the NCAA's enforcement arm and lacks subpoena power.
There is at least one roundly satisfying aspect of Emmert's announcement. Funds collected for the $60 million fine -- roughly a year's football revenue at Penn State -- will be directed toward national child sex abuse awareness programs.
That, it seems, is the least the school can do.