Penn State is lucky -- at least the Nittany Lions still have a football team.

The NCAA's sanctions for the loss of institutional control during the heinous Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal were tough but fair. Penn State fans who claim a one- or two-year "death penalty" would be preferable to the sanctions are completely wrong.

Penn State still will be good this season -- barring massive transfers. Incoming freshmen seldom play much anyway. The stands will remain largely filled as the community seeks to prove its support of the sport that is the fabric of Happy Valley.

It's from 2014 to 2016 that will greatly test the program's faithful. When reduced scholarships and fewer blue-chippers result in 3-9 teams watched by half-empty stadiums, that's when Monday's sanctions truly will be felt.

But it's still better than the death penalty, which would have required a 100 percent rebuild and a decade or more to regroup. Southern Methodist needed 22 years to reach a bowl after its program was shut down in 1987.

Penn State has a chance to be a bowl contender again by 2018 or so. But its days of top-10 rankings are gone. The Nittany Lions won't regain national respect for a decade at best.

NCAA president Mark Emmert announced the sanctions, including a four-year bowl ban, the loss of 10 scholarships annually, a $60 million fine and 111 wins from 1998 to 2011 vacated. Emmert said Penn State let football become the priority over the college's overall mission of education. Never mind that the NCAA tournament results in basketball players missing nearly a month of school for March Madness and the coming national football title game will keep students away another two weeks.

The NCAA worries about every dollar, but it's the only policing body college sports has, so at least it did the right thing and imposed penalties that will ripple through athletic departments nationwide for years.

The $60 million fine was startling at first, but it's just the gross revenue from one football season. Universities have massive rainy-day funds, so the school should use it instead of increasing tuition. A new science building will have to wait.

Vacating wins was simply a way to remove late coach Joe Paterno from atop the career victories list. The NCAA may rewrite history, but it can't take away the memories of those 111 victories.

NCAA executive committee chairman Ed Ray called the sanctions a "stark wakeup call."

"Every major college and university needs to do a gut check," he said.

Indeed, athletic departments will run a little cleaner after these penalties, at least for a few years.

It's easy to say football is just a game. Perhaps we should cheer advances of science departments or attend more performances by music and drama departments. But you can't dictate public desire. Fans choose to make sports into more than it should be.

But Ray is right -- the days of football coaches virtually running universities should be past. That's the lasting effect of Penn State's sanctions.

Examiner columnist Rick Snider has covered local sports since 1978. Read more on Twitter @Snide_Remarks or email rsnider@washingtonexaminer.com.