Those who don't see a difference between justice and mere retribution might well revel in the notion of the NCAA administering the "death penalty" to Penn State University's football program because of the Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.

"Death penalty" is shorthand for sweeping NCAA sanctions that would, in effect, put the football program out of business for a long time.

But those who believe in justice will pause. Such sanctions directly would penalize hundreds of people who had nothing to do with Jerry Sandusky's crimes or their alleged cover-up by high-ranking Penn State administrators, and indirectly penalize thousands more.

Most athletes at Penn State themselves were between 8 and 13 years old when the primary incident at the heart of the scandal occurred in 2001. It would serve no valid purpose to penalize them, nor would it help Mr. Sandusky's victims.

And the impact would not be on football players alone. Football funds all other sports at Penn State. It requires an extraordinary leap of logic to conclude that an 18-year-old field hockey player has any legitimate responsibility in this case.

The death penalty also would have a severe economic impact beyond the university, including the blameless restaurant workers, hotel maids and other low-wage service workers who rely on football for their income.

It is questionable whether NCAA rules apply because the organization's mission is to administer rules within the context of competition. Those rules include a moral conduct clause but that, too, is relative to competition. Nothing in this case points in that direction; there is no competition issue at play.

Jerry Sandusky, the former football coach convicted of child sexual abuse, awaits sentencing. The university board of trustees fired coach Joe Paterno, who since has died. It fired former university President Graham Spanier and Vice President Gary Schultz, while Athletic Director Tim Curley was placed on leave. Mr. Schultz and Mr. Curley await trial for allegedly lying to the grand jury that recommended the Sandusky charges. And, the university anticipates civil lawsuits by Mr. Sandusky's victims.

The courts are exactly where this issue belongs.

Yet the NCAA is under pressure from a variety of people demanding the death penalty.

The organization should quell such speculation now and help turn the conversation to moving forward, rather than to mere retribution.