Tuesday, July 24, 2012

You can’t unring a bell

The penalties delivered to Pennsylvania State University last Monday, striking the football program with the force of Thor’s hammer, ushered a new, and frightening, era for the NCAA, the governing bodies of its member institutions involved in “athletics.” Enforcement has gone beyond the “simple” infractions of illegal recruiting, inducements and tattoos. It now will have to deal with a myriad of possible topics, ranging from pedophilia to criminal conspiracy.
The problem is the failure for any of those topics to be covered in the ever-increasing NCAA manual; there is no section on child rape or what should happen to administrators who fail to report such felonious crimes to superiors. Yet this was what faced the NCAA higher-ups in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky indictment/arrest/conviction for what was taking place within the confines on the PSU football grounds.
Many critics, observers and citizens have called for a temporary (and even permanent) suspension of the entire gridiron operations in Happy Valley. But to what purpose would it serve to punish hundreds more, perhaps thousands when you consider the residual aspects of a Saturday afternoon in State College, Pa., with 100,000 people converging to watch a PSU game? Just how large is that pound of flesh that can be extracted before any level of satisfaction, or penance, is reached?
The actions taken Monday were harsh, severe and will be felt deep into the decade at PSU. Those penalties involving revenue – the fine, loss of scholarships/current roster players, bowl ban for four years – strike at the Mother’s milk of the athletic institution.
The bowl ban is a big time detriment for PSU. When a school plays in a BSC Bowl, you’re talking $12-15 million for the institution; more if it’s the Rose Bowl or BCS title game. So for the next four years, Penn State budgeting got a lot simpler – ZERO on that line item. And it will HURT!
The loss of scholarships begins immediately (10 with the incoming class and 20 for each of the next four years). It means new head coach Bill O’Brien now has the “Sophie’s Choice” task of selecting which one of his incoming recruit class to keep and which to cast away. And by all accounts, O’Brien was about to introduce one of the best group of freshmen in years to Penn State.
This means the equivalent of athletic locusts will descend upon that recruiting list, and PSU roster of incoming sophomores, juniors and seniors (all of whom are free to transfer to other Division 1 schools without the traditional one-year waiting period in order to play) – picking that carcass clean of talent.
Some of the penalties are meaningless gestures, such as the erasure of victories from 1998-2012 (when the first documented incident involving Sandusky can be verified) and the removal of Joe Paterno’s statue from outside the football stadium. As is often said for other situations, “you cannot unring a bell.” Those games were played on the field and the result was documented for all to see, read and hear.
But he was the face and presence of Penn State football, arguably THE most powerful entity on the entire campus. He was the single best-known individual and whatever he wanted was granted – even silence. Yes, to continue having a happy-faced Paterno in permanent gaze upon visiting fans would have been inappropriate; the statue removal should have been a no-brainer. Besides, it hasn’t been melted into iron bars to encase the others about to visit to “Graybar Hotel;” it simply got moved.
Make NO mistake, the sanctions are harsh; but it’s NOT an SMU-type penalty (that program STILL suffers to this day because no one speaks about the Pony Express; only the Death Penalty imposed by the team’s creation). The Pennsylvania governor wasn’t signing illegal payoff checks to players as was the case here in Texas. No one was lying to the NCAA because, in fact, the NCAA never conducted a formal investigation at Penn State (the Freeh Report, paid by the university, was the major piece of evidence used); the NCAA president was granted  “emergency” powers (temporarily) to deliver the verdict upon PSU.
Michigan was not scheduled to play PSU for the next two seasons but in three years, the Black and White will return to the schedule – as if nothing happened … except it will probably be a shell of its former glorious self. By that time, the Lions will be short 30 scholarship players, and no teams can reasonably compete on a mediocre level with that shortage of talent. PSU can field a squad of 100 players, but it will contain scores of walk-ons, playing without benefit of scholarship protection.
Penn State will remain a certified Big 10 Conference member, albeit one of its lesser football programs for the next decade; the program can, indeed, recover, if it plays its cards properly.
The Big 12 Conference didn’t boot Baylor University from its ranks in 2003 when head basketball coach Dave Bliss covered up (and had players lie to police) over the murder of one teammate (Patrick Dennehy) by another (Carlton Dotson). The NCAA brought forth that hammer, slamming the Bears with severe probation through 2010, a loss of one non-conference games for one season and immediate ejection of Bliss.
The Bears suffered mightily until its first winning season in 2008. Two years later, under the direction of Scott Drew, the Bears made it to the NCAA Elite Eight in 2010 and 2012.
Recovery is possible, but a major attitude adjustment by PSU fans is needed … but probably won’t happen. Until the people who sit in the stands demand complete alteration in authority and attitude (football cannot run the entire PSU campus as it DID), nothing will change. Games with 100,000-plus attendance will have to be a thing of the past for people to understand; a “My Team! Do or Die!” mindset (as it exists, I dare say, today at many schools, including a few in the Lone Star State, which I won’t name but whose initials are A&M) will have to cease.
Again, everyone needs to remember one major factor about the NCAA: it is a collection of schools asking to police themselves. The NCAA cannot do what the schools (in the form of college presidents) don’t want to happen. The real remedies for these civil and criminal actions do not involve athletics at all. The coverup was done administratively, and only one “coach” was directly involved.
Still, a whole host of administrators – from Paterno to the PSU president – covered it up ... not for Sandusky’s protection, but to shield the reputation of the university and the football program (which only stands behind Big Blue in average attendance, so do the math). They were supporting Paterno-the legend, Paterno-the myth, and it seemed EVERYONE was awed, or afraid, of him.
Football can be a grand, almost religious, experience, but it cannot swamp morality, illegality or perversion. It’s allowed too often in our religious institutions (I am also reading of a prison sentence to a monsignor for his role in covering up child abuse by parish priests in the Catholic Church in Philadelphia), so why are people shocked when it crossed the 50-yard line into the locker room?
Sports, when done properly, can command tremendous respect for courage, determination, teamwork and excitement. I could elaborate for hours on what has prostituted the collegiate games (football AND basketball) – money! At its heart, college athletics should about representation of that particular university or state (in the case of one-school states like Nebraska, Arkansas, etc.).
Money has been the root of that evil and it seriously impacted what happened at Penn State – people lying and covering up to protect the PSU brand (which is unbelievably powerful in the East/Northeast U.S.).
The message being sent Monday was NOT directed at Penn State; it was meant for everyone else ... if abhorrent crimes are committed attached to your athletic programs, expect this kind of penalty to be assessed. It has taken the NCAA into territory it never expected (or wanted) to see.
And in the end, the overwhelming feeling is sadness – for the victims, for the PSU players who had nothing to do with anything and for the PSU fans, who must walk through the ashes of a once proud program on a very proud campus.
Because, in future presentations of “Password” or “Jeopardy,” when the answer is “Penn State,” the question will NOT involve results on the field.