My husband and I, both former collegiate athletes at a Division I school (he in baseball, me in soccer), are on opposite sides of this issue.
Honestly, I think the punishments are just. Yes, it does indeed suck that current student athletes and students are having to pay this stiff of a price. But they should not be pointing their fingers at the NCAA, as the NCAA didn't bring this upon Penn State. Penn State brought this upon Penn State. If fingers want to point, point them at the numerous people in high positions at the university, that were involved in this ginormous cover-up of the most horrendous crime in the world.
People say JoePa is a "good" man and he just made a "mistake", and I say "B.S.!". Good people don't make mistakes by knowing that children are being sexually abused and raped, and so they do their best to help cover it up all the while allowing it to continue. JoePa cared more about fame and glory and "his" football team than he did about any other person...or child.
All of these involved knew they were putting student athletes, students, and even the university at risk of serious punishments, and yet they continued on in their little lies and game of hide-and-prevent from seeking.
At some point, the punishment must be severe enough to send the point home, and in this case, that's what they attempted to do. In fact, they could've disbanded the team for the entire upcoming year, and I would've been in support of that as well.
I'm also closely following this issue in regard to Title IX. While this amendment is most often use to make sure that girls/women have the same rights to sports teams as boys/men, it is losely worded in that it states that no person shall be discriminated against by any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. The word "person" could very well spell even more trouble for Penn State, if a judge allows a lawsuit to be put forth under this amendment. This could result in a loss of all financial assistance (grants and loans) to the university as a whole, and I'm not sure any university could continue to run without such assistance.