Let's Talk a Bit About the Penn State-Paterno Debacle

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I largely have ignored the Sandusky crime, Paterno firing and the Penn State cover-up for months. TDG is not usually your home for controversial opinions on the polarizing sports topics of the day. When heinous crimes intersect with sports I tend to try and keep the two separate. Bad things happen in all walks of life, sports is not immune. I think that because of this I tend not to elevate players/coaches too high because all too often they disappoint. Why? Because they are humans, often prideful and arrogant and incredibly competitive human beings. I think I learned my lesson with Clem Haskins who preached integrity but chose not to live it, I bought it and he proved me wrong.

But this is not going to be about my philosophy on sports figures acting as role models I want to share my thoughts on this whole Penn State thing as I have a few thoughts on the matter. I'll start with Paterno.

Were I a Penn State fan I'm certain that I would have bought the Paterno legacy hook, line and sinker. Why? Because over decades he really did do an awful lot of good for the school, the community and many young men. He was very successful as a football coach, he generated bazillions of dollars for PSU, he was well compensated for his success and he gave back a LOT to the school and the community. He not only gave back a lot of money but time and energy as well. He really did do a lot of good and it does make me cringe at how quickly all of that is being forgotten. Over time I would have come to believe that JoePa was different than everyone else. I would have been wrong.

Decades of doing a lot of good things shouldn't be forgotten but unfortunately for him, his legacy and his family it can never outweigh the young boys that he let down. There is no doubt that he did not do enough, he was complicit in covering Sandusky's crimes. He chose the safety of his football program over the well-being, safety and the lives of the children Sandusky was abusing. He deserved punishment, he deserves to have his legacy tarnished and he should no longer be revered as a great man. If you preach integrity it has to prevail when the stakes are the highest. Most, if not all, of us would say that this should have been an easy decision. But when the stakes were high for Paterno he set his integrity aside and made the wrong decision.

The issue of the statue has been oft written about this week but is irrelevant in my opinion. I can see both sides of this one. Paterno was a successful football coach who built the Penn State program into what we know it as today. Without him, Penn State might not be in the Big Ten, they might have new uniforms and it certainly isn't the nationally recognized blue-chip program that it is today. Paterno was a football coach and successful football coaches have statues. On the other hand his statue will be a constant reminder of how his tenure ended and the stain he left on the University. It will be a reminder of the children who were abused and how it was systematically covered up for the sake of the football program. It probably should come down, but I don't really care.

What I find most interesting in this whole debacle is that there is still one party yet to be punished. Sandusky is now a convicted criminal and should never see the light of day. Paterno clearly didn't do nearly enough, was fired and has since passed on rendering his further punishment moot. But the University and the officials who were also involved in covering up the crimes have yet to be levied a punishment.

At this level there will almost certainly be two forms of punishment. One will be the inevitable civil lawsuits against the University which will likely result in millions (if not billions) of dollars in punitive damages. This is obviously speculative, I am making some assumptions that there will be some punitive damages levied against the University to prevent something like this from happening again (which is kind of the definition of punitive).

But the NCAA is also likely to get involved here. Technically the football program did not violate any specific NCAA rules. No specific violations here but the NCAA always has the broader "lack of institutional control" hammer it can wield. There are varying opinions on whether or not the dreaded death penalty should be used in this case. Not allowing Penn State to play football for a season or two, along with reduced scholarships and further ban on post-season play would be devastating. But I think I completely agree. Shutting down the program would send a message.

It would send the message that football does not trump everything. Sometimes a football program, regardless of how much revenue it generates, is not more important than the lives of others. The program and the value that it brings to a University is never to be used as justification for crimes, especially those perpetrated on children. Would the punishment fit the crime? This might be a bit harsh but I think a message needs to be sent, a line needs to be drawn somewhere that major college football doesn't get to do whatever the hell it wants.

I am sorry that this punishment affects players and coaches who had nothing to do with crimes committed over a decade ago. But this punishment is meant to harm the University. There has to be a structure of power that does not allow something like this to happen. It is bad enough when one person decides to commit this crime, it is compounded when one or two decide to cover it up. But when a group of people collectively decide to cover something like this up, there needs to be a significant punishment.

This Dr. Saturday article highlights that shutting down PSU football in July presents a host of other problems and if the death penalty is issued, it has to be done smartly.

If Penn State were to nix its football program for the 2012 season, 12 teams would be missing a game with no way to fill the open date with just two weeks before fall camp starts. Included on that schedule are a couple Big Ten teams that have the potential to play in BCS bowls.

....

I understand people are upset and want action and I don't necessarily disagree that a good place to start is disbanding the football program for a year or two, but that punishment has to wait until 2013. Even though the Nittany Lions have nonconference opponents lined up for the next three seasons, those opponents will have time to find replacements for their schedules. Announce the penalty now, let Penn State have a farewell year, give players a chance to find new teams and then enforce it. Jumping the gun on this makes no sense and would do more harm than good to college football as a whole.

Regardless of how it is done, it is my opinion that it should be done. This would be a massive blow to the University, it would be bad for the Big Ten and it would be very unfortunate for those currently on the PSU roster (especially the upper classmen). But this is one of those times when someone (anyone) should have stood up for what was right.

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