The NCAA has hit Penn State with harsh penalties as punishment for the Jerry Sandusky case. Penn State is put on probation for 5 years, is banned from bowl games for 4, loses numerous scholarships, is fined $60 million, and has the dreaded "vacating wins" penalty imposed on it (for the period 1998-2011). It's players are allowed to transfer without penalty, which is also a penalty for Penn State football because it makes it easier for players to leave.
No doubt about it, these are harsh penalties, and they seem appropriate to me. There's no death penalty because of the consequences that would bring for the rest of the athletic department. Being the cash cow, the football program funds the non-revenue sports. Killing football would bring some serious hardship to baseball, women's basketball, etc.
Update: Craig Depken and Dennis Wilson have a working paper that examines the costs of probation and which sheds light on the spillover consequences of probation. Here's the abstract.
This paper presents an empirical investigation into the monetary effect of a football probation and associated penalties, including lost scholarships and post-season bans, on the revenues andexpenditures on collegiate sports. Using data from 106 Division IA football programs from 1996-2000, we test the impact of a probation on men’s football revenues and expenditures and find little evidence of a monetary effect. Extending the analysis to men’s and women’s basketball andaggregated men’s and women’s non-revenue sports, we find evidence that suggests women’ssports, and to a lesser extent men’s non-revenue sports, suffer reduced resources during a football probation and associated penalties. We provide possible explanations for this perhapsunintentional consequence of NCAA enforcement in collegiate football.
Update 2: The vacating of wins officially makes Bobby Bowden the all-time wins leader among FBS coaches.