Thoughts on Penn State

Ever since the Sandusky scandal broke last November, I have been up and down on my opinions as to how Penn State should handle this crisis. Initially, I did not agree with Penn State firing Joe Paterno, their legendary coach. At the time, to me, it appeared to be a reactionary move to satisfy the press and angry public. Over the history of time, plenty of people have lost their jobs over scandals they knew nothing about. Much like the rest of the Penn State community, I had a hard time believing Paterno knew anything about it.

Clearly I was wrong.

With the release of the Freeh Report a week or so ago – the ugly truth became increasingly clear. According to the Freeh report (which former President Spanier strongly disputes) it is presumed that Paterno knew Sandusky was a potential child molester as early as 1998.

Now, I don’t want to go into the details of the report, but I did want to comment on the reactions and the NCAA punishments……

Let’s start with the removal of the Paterno statue outside of the stadium, yet keeping his name on the library. I think this was the right move. This scandal is tied to football as much as anything. Paterno allegedly knew too much and did too little and because of this, innocent boys had their lives ruined. I also think this was an easy move for the administration since he is dead – if he were still alive, I would speculate that that statue would still be there. I also think it is okay to keep his name on the library – he performed 30+ years of great service to the university leading up to 1998 – he should not be forgotten. I only draw this line because in my opinion, by 1998 Paterno did not know left from right. He was a million years old and health rapidly declining. People were already calling for him to step down, but he didn’t.

I hate this argument, because it sounds like I’m making an excuse for his behavior – I AM NOT. I am just speculating he was not in the right mind and possibly very confused. I think we should let some dust settle before deciding on the library (that he paid for).

As for the NCAA:

First, do they have the authority?

Sure, every university basically hands over all rights and powers to the NCAA. Personally, I think it is a very flawed establishment that should be very closely looked at (see this Atlantic article).

Was the punishment right?

Sure, I guess. The Freeh report basically concluded that the football program had too much power and controlled the university. They claim it got to the point that even a child molester could continue to bait their prey all in the name of protecting the football program.

I know a lot about football culture – I was a theatre major at a football school (Florida State University). I can go on for days about our stripped budgets, while watching football money flood in). Football, though, should not run a university. I understand that it is a major funding source (especially for schools like FSU and PSU), but it has to be monitored. Our trustees at FSU did what the trustees at Penn St could never do, we got a coach who was well past their prime to retire. Was it pretty? No. Was it necessary? Yes.

This very thing, to me, confirms some of the Freeh conclusions. If the board cannot get rid of the coach (until a horrible sex scandal), the what power do they have?

All people involved directly in this scandal are now gone, but the NCAA feels the football culture that caused this to happen is still there. So, they did what they could. They fined them, took away wins, took away bowls and scholarships. Sure, that’s fine under their purview. I think, though, instead of punishing the kids that just want to play football, some of who never met Paterno, the NCAA should have fired all of the PSU administration. I don’t think they have that power, but would have been nice. I think the whole board should be gone. They are the ones that empowered Paterno and the football program. They are the ones that were so weak they were kept in the dark about everything. Their job is to protect the university, it’s alumni, students, faculty and staff — and they failed.

It has come out recently that the NCAA was considering the famous death penalty. Frankly, I think this would have been a better option and would not have punished innocent people as much … Maybe. To agree with this, I have to assume that most PSU players could get picked up on other teams and their recruits could go elsewhere.

With the actual NCAA penalties, it’s more like they got shot in the leg and are forced to limp along. Deserving athletes now have to pick between their school and career – if the death penalty was imposed, the decision would be clear. It is not fair for a student athlete who had absolutely nothing to do with the case get penalized for the actions of a few in the past – no matter how sever.

(PS – this logic applies to 90% of NCAA punishments)

So, in closing – yes, PSU as an institution should suffer. But the athletes who just want to play football should not.

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