A Hard Lesson Learned from Penn State's Fall
Members of Penn State’s class of 2013 may be grandparents by the time the Nittany Lions’ football program once again achieves anything resembling the glory days of “Linebacker U” under coach Joe Paterno.
But never again will Penn State be that institution highly respected for the integrity of its major college football operation.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association made sure that Penn State will suffer for decades when it severely penalized the university and its football program last Monday because men in charge, including Paterno, covered up the horrendous criminality of a pedophile, Jerry Sandusky.
The former defensive coordinator on Paterno’s coaching staff was convicted last month of molesting numerous children on the Penn State campus and elsewhere for years and years.
Then the Louis Freeh report issued by that former FBI director claimed Paterno and the university president, Graham Spanier, knew about these criminal acts since 1998 and chose to cover them up in order to prevent bad publicity about the highly regarded Penn State football program. It was this report that was the basis for the NCAA action.
The totally shattered and apparently mythical image of Penn State perfection has been replaced with despondency among university students while the new football coach, Bill O’Brien, tries to exude confidence in rebuilding from the ashes of disgrace. And he keeps hoping other major college football powers, acting like circling vultures, do not strip his team of its best players who, by NCAA decree, are eligible to transfer to other colleges where they can play immediately.
This heavy sentence and shocking fall from great respect to great disgrace has created some sympathy for Penn State’s football players, students, faculty members, alumni and administrators who had nothing to do with the child molesting scandal.
But those who have watched football and Paterno gain immense power and sway over all things on campus feel little sympathy for Penn State.
Time to Join the Real World
It is time for the Nittany Lions to come out of isolation and delusion and join the real world, which will no longer tolerate them bragging about how good they are.
Instead, where is the sympathy for Sandusky’s many victims, those boys who are now men who had their childhood destroyed by rape? No one should waste sympathy on a huge, rich and mismanaged institution such as Penn State, where unknown numbers of children were attacked by this predator on the campus of that hide-away university.
Does anyone really believe that Sandusky suddenly started molesting boys at age 54 in 1998? It is much more likely he had been doing those terrible things for years while he served more than three decades as Paterno’s right hand man on the coaching staff.
Football was too powerful at Penn State, and so these things could not be exposed, according to men in authority. The result was degradation and criminality of a nature never seen before on an American campus.
That is why the NCAA handed down a stiff sentence against Penn State, starting with a $60 million fine. All of that money is to go to organizations that assist abused children.
Then came a four-year ban against postseason bowl games for Penn State starting this season.
Also, Penn State may award only 15 full athletic scholarships to entering freshman football players, instead of the usual 25, for four years starting in 2013.
Beginning with the 2014 season and lasting four years or through the 2017 season, Penn State may have only 65 full scholarship players on its football team instead of the usual 85 allowed in major or Division I Bowl Championship Series institutions.
The NCAA also vacated Penn State’s last 111 victories under Joe Paterno, those from 1998 through 2011. Thus Paterno no longer ranks as the winningest major college football coach, as he now is credited with only 298 victories instead of 409. Penn State tore down the statue of Paterno outside Beaver Stadium. Brown University, Paterno’s alma mater, removed his name from two annual athletic/academic awards it presents to worthy students.
The Big Ten Conference also penalized Penn State by not allowing the university to share in that conference’s bowl revenue for the next four years. This amounts to about $13 million every year for each of the league’s 12 members. Penn State’s share will also be used to assist abused children.
Will They Get The Message?
But even though the NCAA laid out a stringent set of punishments against Penn State, the university is still going to be able to play football games and do so before home crowds of well over 100,000 in Beaver Stadium. The Nittany Lions have not been banned from appearing on television, and the new coaching staff remains intact.
Penn State will open its 2012 season in just 34 days on Sept. 1 against Ohio University before one of those huge Beaver Stadium crowds.
The Nittany Lions are going to keep making money in the big business of college football, even though it will be considerably less than in recent years.
Penn State will be hurt down the road by losing many football games during the next 10 years or so because Penn State is going to be undermanned when going up against some of the nation’s strongest teams, such as Ohio State, Michigan and Nebraska in the Big Ten. This can seriously impact recruiting.
For this reason, Penn State should drop out of the Big Ten Conference. It never belonged there anyway. Now that it is not going to share in the league’s great riches, why should the Nittany Lions be the practice dummies for Indiana and Northwestern as well as Ohio State?
Unfortunately, when Mark Emmert, president of the NCAA, announced the Penn State penalties last Monday at a nationally televised press conference, there was such sanctimony and hypocrisy to the whole procedure that one did not know whether to laugh or push the mute button.
Throughout his presentation, Emmert kept emphasizing how these penalties are meant to change the culture and attitude at Penn State so that football is no longer more important than academics. He said he expected these penalties and the criminal acts to send a message to all other major college football colleges and universities that they should also tone down their football-over-academics attitudes.
Who was he kidding?
Maybe Penn State will get the message because that is where the sanctions fall. But does anyone expect Louisiana State University or the University of Washington, two institutions where Emmert served as CEO in the past, to de-emphasize football?
The NCAA presidents of major football institutions who approved these penalties before Emmert made them public are the same people who just a few weeks ago finally approved a major college football playoff system to determine the national championship team. This will add millions and millions of dollars to already bulging bank accounts of major college athletic departments.
The NCAA is in the business of helping these powers make more money any way possible at the expense of the free labor provided by kids who are supposed to be students. The NCAA and its institutions favor multi-million dollar salaries for head football and basketball coaches while distinguished professors earn a tiny fraction of that. A coach is paid more than the university CEO.
For Emmert and the NCAA to hope for less emphasis on major college football around the country just because Penn State got slapped down quite hard is like trying to put toothpaste back in the tube.
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His email is sports@ thepilot.com.
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