There seem to be two ongoing debates in the national media and in the blogosphere regarding the future of Penn State football:
1. What to do with the Joe Paterno statue?
2. Should the NCAA impose the “Death Penalty”?
Let me talk about the statue first. Some folks have called for “right-minded people at Penn State” to take the statue down themselves. Somehow, I do not think that mob violence with a patina of vigilante justice is going to help matters here. So, I categorically reject that “option”.
I do believe that the statue should be removed and I believe that the administration at Penn State should remove it quickly and quietly. I hope that happens before the start of registration for classes in the Fall Semester. Removing the statue in that way would accomplish two things:
1. It would remove a constant visual reminder of a sordid chapter in the history of the university.
2. It would begin the process of convincing folks inside Penn State and outside Penn State that there are adults in charge of the university.
I can think of only one purpose that might be served by keeping the statue where it is – - and admittedly it is a perverse purpose.
It might stand as a cautionary tale regarding the deification of heroes and it might serve as a warning to others about erecting statues of living folks.
You want to erect a statue of Vince Lombardi to honor his coaching accomplishments? Fine; we know what those accomplishments are and we also know that Lombardi has been dead long enough that there are not likely to be any “other shoes dropping” regarding other dimensions of his life or character. Putting up a statue of a living person is a crap shoot. Imagine if the Buffalo Bills had a statue of OJ erected in 1994 outside their stadium; it might have seemed like a good idea at the time, but…
Regarding the NCAA “Death Penalty”, it seems to me that most of the arguments calling for its imposition center on Penn State’s seeming “lack of institutional control” for the period 1998 – 2012. Actually, I think just the opposite is the case; the administration of the university – - allegedly up to and including the President of Penn State – - were fully in control of the situation and were making decisions in conjunction with the Athletic Department. Let’s be clear; the decisions to “keep this quiet” because the publicity would not be good for the school or for the football program were bad decisions and fundamentally wrong decisions. Nonetheless, the fact is that the institution – - in the form of the chain of command within the university – - was solidly in control of this matter until prosecutors with grand jury subpoenas showed up at the door.
I do not think that the NCAA should do much of anything regarding Penn State football other than to take a righteous and principled position that the tail wagged the dog in this matter and that the situations that obtained from that tail wagging the dog were monstrous. The reason I take that position has nothing to do with parsing NCAA Bylaws or anything of the sort. The reason I say that has to do with the overarching purpose of the NCAA.
The NCAA – - for better or worse – - is an organization of colleges and universities which fosters competition between the member schools in a variety of sporting events. The reason it enacted whatever Bylaws it has and the reason it has the bazillion rules that it has is in order to create the idyllic “level playing field” for all schools when they compete against another. The NCAA Bylaws and rules are not there to right the wrongs of society nor are they there to conduct:
“The never-ending battle for truth, justice and the American way.” [/Superman]
Through that prism, the Penn State football teams gained exactly no advantage over any of their opponents as a result of either Jerry Sandusky’s child molestation activities or as a result of the school turning a blind eye to what was happening. Do not read the previous sentence to mean even in the slightest way that Sandusky’s actions and the university’s actions were anything short of outrageous. My point is that none of those horrible actions or any of the consequences that came from those actions had an effect on the most important aspect of the NCAA’s existence – - the level playing field for all member institutions.
When there have been other horrible situations on campuses, the NCAA did not step in and sanction any school teams. In the aftermath of the shootings at Virginia Tech, many folks asserted that the institution did not act with proper attention or with any speed to protect students and faculty there from a deranged killer. Maybe that was the case and maybe it was not. Regardless, the NCAA did nothing because that horrible campus situation had nothing to do with athletic competition on the field. And the NCAA was absolutely correct to express its sorrow regarding what happened and then to go on about its business of trying to increase the revenues generated by intercollegiate athletics.
Even in the situation where members of a college team are arrested and convicted of crimes that make you cringe, the NCAA does not issue “Death Penalties”. Date rape, gang rape, spouse abuse… No one would condone such things but the NCAA “Death Penalty” is irrelevant. Such things are handled by the same court system that has Jerry Sandusky in jail right now.
I can imagine someone calling to my attention the “Baylor Basketball Scandal” from about 10 years ago where the NCAA did step in and sanction the Baylor basketball team. So let me reset that situation for folks who may not recall it:
A Baylor player, Patrick Denehy, was found dead.
Another Baylor player, Carlton Dotson, eventually pleaded guilty to murdering Denehy.
Baylor coach, Dave Bliss, orchestrated a cover-up by telling his players and assistant coaches to tell police that Denehy was a drug dealer and that probably led to his death.
As horrid as that situation was, that was not the basis of the NCAA’s sanction. Yes, that was the incident that shone a light into the basketball program but it was not the basis of any sanction.
In the course of NCAA investigations that started because the whole murder cover-up came unglued, the NCAA found that Baylor had gone over the scholarship limit; Bliss had paid Denehy’s tuition to get him to transfer to Baylor and there were other “under the table” payments and benefits made to various team members by Bliss and other assistant coaches. Those are the violations that earned Baylor basketball its sanctions – - for the simple reason that the overarching purpose of the rules regarding not paying players and limiting scholarships is to provide that “level playing field”.
In short, the “Baylor Basketball Scandal” and the “Sandusky/Penn State Affair” are alike only in the inhumanity demonstrated by people in the athletic departments at both schools. Until and unless the NCAA finds violations of its “level playing field” rules within the Penn State program, it really ought to leave this situation alone.
HOW-EVAH, if the current administration at Penn State were to choose to cancel its season in 2012 and forfeit all of its games, that would be fine with me. That is a decision that the school should make for itself.
I have one final note I want to make regarding the “Sandusky/Penn State Affair”. There is a minor actor in this saga that I would want to hear more from.
Tom Corbett is the Governor of Pennsylvania and sits ex officio on the Penn State Board of Trustees.
Corbett was elected Governor in Nov 2010; and prior to that election, he was the Pennsylvania State Attorney General overseeing the investigation into allegations regarding Jerry Sandusky and Second Mile and the like.
One could logically assume he “knew something” about the situation when he showed up at his first meeting of the Penn State Board of Trustees which would have been sometime after his inauguration in January 2011.
So, armed with whatever knowledge he had, things just kept on keeping on in Happy Valley? Really? I wish I could reincarnate Senator Howard Baker (R-Tenn) so he could ask Governor Corbett a version of his famous Watergate question:
What did you know, and when did you know it?
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………