It’s a funny thing that as you get older, you seem to see things a little more “black and white” than you did in your twenties and thirties. Life does have a way of teaching you absolutes, and will continue to teach them until they are understood.
One of the “absolutes” that I’ve sadly learned during the past few years is the media’s absolute power to sway the national argument to the side that will sell more advertising, which means more readers or viewers. And, nothing sells quite as good as bad news or a scandal.
To that end, the NCAA decided on Monday to nuke Penn State University.
To me, the NCAA’s role in college athletics is pretty simple:
You see a football coach shoving hundred-dollar bills into a recruit’s pockets, you don’t call the cops. That’s not illegal. You call the NCAA, because that’s against the rules.
You see a kid being molested in the shower, you call the cops, and not the NCAA because that IS illegal.
I fully understand that the NCAA had to do something with Penn State, regardless of media pressure and public outrage. I get it.
But we do have a huge problem here: as hard as it is for Penn State haters and detractors to swallow, Penn State was squeaky-clean as far as NCAA violations are concerned. This is like getting a parking ticket and having the IRS show up at your door the next day. Neither one has anything to do with the other. And, that’s just the way it is.
Obviously, something went terribly wrong at Penn State. But, in the America that I grew up in, even the guy who just murdered all of those people in Colorado is being referred to as the “alleged” killer, because even though we all know he did it, that’ s just the way our system works. Everyone is entitled to a fair trial.
In Penn State’s case, there has been one trial thus far and Jerry Sandusky was found guilty as charged by a jury of State College residents, many who have close ties to Penn State.
Child molestation, as we have found out over the last several months, is a crime that most Americans don’t have much sympathy for. Penn State would have had a better chance had they been selling drugs out of the locker room or running a gambling ring instead of what was somehow allowed to carry on with Jerry Sandusky.
But, back to the NCAA: while it might give some satisfaction to see once-mighty Penn State humiliated and shamed, an argument can be made that in an effort to “fix the problem,” the NCAA just humiliated and shamed a lot of people who had nothing to do with this: forget about the current students and 500,000 alumni around the world.
What about the current coaching staff and players who just saw their next four years wiped out?
The argument can be made that it’s “people like me” - as in blind defenders of everything Penn State Football – that forced the NCAA to come down hard in an effort to “change the culture” down there in Happy Valley. We all drank the Kool Aid, and it’s our fault that a few individuals allegedly felt empowered to behave like cowards.
That would assume that the average Penn State fan is stupid. And, I can assure you, they’re NOT.
We all love Penn State, and we all loved Joe Paterno. Yet, I believe that had this all come to light when it should have – 10 years ago – Penn State fans would have taken their medicine and moved on. Yes, it would have been hard to swallow, but the wound would’ve been much cleaner and easier to treat. By allowing it to fester for a decade, it had turned into a cancer that ended up consuming the entire body, too late to save.
As of today, two of those that were involved in the alleged cover up – PSU vice-president Gary Schultz and athletic director Tim Curley – up are awaiting trial in January. Former president Graham Spanier could be charged any day. The courts will have their way with them and ultimately decide who is guilty, who is innocent, and who gets punished. NOT the NCAA.
That’s the way it’s supposed to work, and it will.
Again, I understand that the NCAA had to do something, even if they really had no jurisdiction in the matter. While “lack of institutional control” is certainly in play here, the sanctions were levied against Penn State came with no NCAA hearing (the normal procedure) but instead relied on the much-flawed Freeh Report. Even after the Grand Jury indicted Sandusky, he still got his day in court. The Freeh Report is just that: a report that issued some very strong opinions based on no interviews with the main players. But, it was fool’s gold for the NCAA. And, apparently, enough evidence for them to convict Penn State.
My biggest problem with this whole sad tragedy is the lack of due process. Unfortunately, “due process” takes time, and the NCAA felt the need to act swiftly no matter what future court proceedings may reveal.
In the end, everyone who had anything to do with this mess is gone, dead, or awaiting trial. Coach Bill O’Brien now has to figure out how to deal with possible mass-transfers of his players to other schools and has to also somehow repair the psyche of a team who just had their hearts ripped out for an opening game in just five weeks.
I know, too bad. This isn’t about football, it’s about punishing the university that allegedly looked the other way when children were being molested.
As in most Division I schools, Penn State’s football team is more than football: it’s a cash cow that funds most of the other sports on campus (sorry, women’s lacrosse is not self-funded) and builds new science buildings so that the entire university benefits from it. It’s a place for the alumni to gather for a few weeks every fall and to talk about the old days. It’s a happy diversion from every day life. It’s so big that media from around the country cover Penn State Football.
The NCAA should have hit Penn State harder financially – like $100 million – but left the Golden Goose alone. Two or three years with no bowl games would have at least given Coach O’Brien a chance to tell incoming freshmen that there’s some hope to play in the post season in a few years.
The loss of scholarships takes 40 kids who might have never had another chance to go to college off the table. Forget Penn State, those 40 scholarships weren’t taken away and divided among other schools. They were simply erased. How does that serve anybody?
Regarding the vacation of wins since 1998, that to me was just petty, vindictive, and over-the-top, especially when the matters that allegedly happened in 1998 have yet to have their full vetting in a court of law. It was a very cheap and parting shot at Joe Paterno. Perhaps everyone will be happy if the entire Paterno family were executed in public. No doubt, the NCAA would be there to fine them for being dead without a permit and order them to be shot again.
My son is on Penn State’s team. Before this, he had never even heard of Jerry Sandusky. The coach who recruited him – Mike McQueary – is gone. The coach he played for is dead. His university is the laughingstock of the world. Yet, he wakes up every morning for his 5:00 AM run, throws up, lifts weights, and then goes to class to earn his degree in Energy Management.
He’ll never play in a bowl game, or for the Big 10 Championship. He’ll be booed mercilessly at away games, and many of his teammates and friends are considering transferring. His team didn’t break any rules yet had 13 years of wins stripped away.
He didn’t sign up for this. As his dad, it’s hard to watch.
Perhaps the NCAA could have spent more than just 10 days deliberating before adding so much more pain to an already painful situation. Again, the NCAA had to do something, but the wheels of justice were already in motion before they turned Happy Valley into Hiroshima.
And this serves the victims of Sandusky how?