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Big Ten Sanctions Still Causing Big Problems for Penn State

Just two weeks ago, Senator Jake Corman’s lawsuit brought the NCAA to its knees with a settlement that vanquished the remaining penalties from the Sandusky scandal against Penn State. After enduring three years of sanctions, Joe Paterno’s 409 wins were restored, the consent decree was replaced with a new agreement, and the $60 million fine was kept within the state of Pennsylvania to benefit victims of child sexual abuse.

While news of the rollback of the crippling sanctions brought joy to many, especially past and present members of the Penn State football team, there remains another elephant in the room: the Big Ten sanctions.

You may recall the details of the penalty, first announced on July 23, 2012, the very same day as the NCAA penalties. Based on the findings of the Freeh Report — a document we now understand to be fatally flawed — the Big Ten Conference Council of Presidents and Chancellors (COPC) fully supported the actions taken by the NCAA. In addition, “following a thorough review of the Freeh Report,” the COPC voted to impose additional sanctions, including:

  • A four-year Big Ten Conference Championship Game ban, ending after the 2015-16 season (later rescinded in September 2014 after the NCAA’s announcement removing Penn State’s postseason ban).
  • Withholding Penn State from receiving its share of Big Ten Conference bowl revenues over those same four years. The estimated $13 million will be distributed among other members and donated to established charitable organizations dedicated to the protection of children.

The Big Ten has been markedly silent on the status of its sanctions against Penn State.

Senator Corman’s lawsuit led to some startling findings in the discovery phase, including e-mails that revealed the NCAA was colluding with Freeh investigators through the “independent” investigation. The former chairman of the NCAA, Oregon State president Ed Ray, admitted he didn’t even read the report. I could go into more specifics about Louis Freeh’s questionable reputation as an investigator, but Onward State’s Kevin Horne already did that in much gorier detail.

For new athletic director Sandy Barbour, hired in Aug. 2014 after serving as the AD at UC-Berkley for 10 years, balancing the athletic department’s checkbook is proving increasingly difficult without the extra bowl revenue. According to Audrey Snyder of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the sanctions have already cost the school more than $9 million over the past three seasons, with one year of penalties still remaining.

“There were facilities and capital expenditures and capital improvements that were on the books. They were getting ready to go and got pulled back when the scandal hit,” Barbour said, according to the same Post-Gazette article. “We had a very healthy reserve that we’ve now dug very deeply into.”

Although the Big Ten estimated the sanctions would only cost Penn State $13 million, bowl revenues have skyrocketed in recent years, culminating this season with the creation of the College Football Playoff. By replacing the Bowl Championship Series, the Power Five conferences doubled their financial dollars to $50 million, with Ohio State’s participation in the playoff and Michigan State’s play in the Cotton Bowl fetching the Big Ten an additional $10 million.

To see just how big each slice of the pie is growing, look no farther than last year. In 2013-14, the Big Ten saw eight teams compete in bowl games, earning $46.7 million in revenue. During a banner year in 2014-15, 10 of the conference’s 14 teams played in bowl games, bringing in $77.7 million in revenue.

Penn State’s missed bowl shares include $2.3 million in 2012-13 and $2.75 million 2013-14, as well as the $2.6 million the school donated in 2011-12 to programs that aid in the prevention and treatment of sexual abuse prior to facing any sanctions. With the Big Ten distributing revenue evenly like the rest of the Power 5 (Nebraska, Rutgers, and Maryland are part of six-year integration periods and only receive a fixed amount), Penn State missed out on $4.1 million this bowl season.

“We’re fortunate that we’re at a very good resource level, but $2.5 or $3.4 million in any given year, that’s significant resources,” Barbour said. “We have to forgo some things that could help us create those conditions of success for our student-athletes.”

Though Penn State has weathered the storm financially thus far, Barbour and the athletic department will have to shell out more money next year for a new expenditure. At the NCAA convention in January, the cost of attendance stipend passed 79-1, requiring universities to pay scholarship athletes a stipend to cover miscellaneous cost of living expenses outside of their scholarship. An additional $4,700 for Penn State’s 362 student athletes will cost $1.7 million annually.

Though the worst appears to be over for Penn State’s athletic department, there’s still more work to be done. The NCAA sanctions may be gone, but it will be at least another two years before the program returns to normalcy.

Image: Katie Fiorillo

About the Author

CJ Doon

CJ is a senior journalism major from Long Island and Onward State's Sports Editor. He is a third-generation Penn Stater, and his grandfather wrestled for the university back in the 1930s under coach Charlie “Doc” Speidel. Besides writing, one of his favorite activities is making sea puns. You can follow him on Twitter @CJDoon, and send your best puns to [email protected], just for the halibut.

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