NCAA WENT TOO FAR AGAINST PENN STATE
Actually, Joe Paterno did exist.
You can take down his statue.
You can pluck him out of the record books.
You can pretend that scores of wins and six bowl victories never happened.
You can pretend that the last 50 years were all a dream.
But you can’t erase him.
Because he did exist.
The NCAA can do a lot of things, but it can’t change history.
Yesterday the NCAA said that football had become too important. Yesterday we saw that the NCAA has become too important.
A $60 million fine?
Fourteen seasons of wins and losses thrown out the window? Victory determined by bureaucratic declaration as opposed to points on the board?
A permanent overseer?
Did they really hate Joe Paterno that much? Did he make them feel that inadequate? Is the bile so great that they must expunge the life and the life’s work of one of football’s greatest coaches?
Don’t get me wrong, child sexual abuse is intolerable. I know, I was sexually abused as a child. But there is a wild, vindictive disproportionality in all of this.
The tradition and identity of a college and its alumni are being defamed and destroyed. Penn State forever more will be an institution of shame. The best memories of a couple of generations of students are now tainted and besmirched.
Those happy Saturdays have spoiled and been condemned, and their sparkle will never be recaptured by Penn State.
The NCAA didn’t inflict the death penalty, but probably only because it gets more power and more money by letting Penn State football hobble along as a second-class possession of the NCAA.
What happened yesterday is the NCAA tried to wash away its sins in the blood of Joe Paterno.
No, apparently he wasn’t perfect. But the NCAA doesn’t have any room to talk.
There are countless college athletic programs, in one sport or another, where officials have ignored criminal conduct. Sadly, maybe even most frequently, it has been sexual criminal conduct.
Maybe the NCAA can tell us how many times college athletes have been accused of rape. Maybe it can tell us how many times universities have tried to hush such things up, or handle them internally.
Maybe the NCAA can tell us about illegal drug use by its scholar athletes. Maybe it can discuss gang memberships and late-night robberies and general, ignorant thuggery.
Since the NCAA is now levying multi-million dollar fines for failing to report criminal conduct to the police, I imagine college presidents around the nation are going to get their checkbooks out.
This wasn’t about integrity, it was about skapegoating.
The NCAA is more worried about its bad publicity than Penn State was worried about its. This crucifixion yesterday was nothing more than throwing somebody to the crowd to satiate an upset public.
Again, the public has a right to be upset. It is clear that senior academic officials at Pennsylvania State University did not report their suspicions about Jerry Sandusky. It is clear that they allowed him use of college facilities when they shouldn’t have.
And it is quite likely that their actions left Sandusky free to molest additional little boys.
That is horrific.
But it’s not sports. It’s not the purview of the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
The NCAA exists to establish rules and set up competition schedules. If you break its rules, you are subject to its sanctions.
But no NCAA rules were broken.
The organization tacitly admitted as much when it declared these sanctions “presidential.” That means that the normal procedure of due process, evidence and ability to put forward a defense don’t apply in this case.
Instead of citing a rule and its infraction, the NCAA opined about integrity and values and a long list of other nice-sounding words that haven’t ever truly been associated with it.
Penn State did bad stuff.
That bad stuff should be – and has been – addressed by law enforcement and by the state of Pennsylvania.
It will also be addressed in civil courts, as families of victims appropriately line up to sue.
Cops arrest lawbreakers and prosecutors take them to trial. That has already happened. The state – which owns the university – is ticked off and cleans house, demanding punishment and accountability. That has already happened.
And now that the university’s investigation is complete and public, civil lawsuits will go forward.
Those are the stakeholders.
They have legitimate roles to play.
But these weren’t violations of athletic rules. Nobody cheated or committed an NCAA violation.
This is none of the NCAA’s business.
But it has stuck its nose in anyway.
And the students at Penn State and the taxpayers of Pennsylvania are going to be stuck with the bill. The football program, which paid to make Penn State what it is academically, is essentially dead. It is $60 million out of pocket, the annual potential earnings of $60 million will never be seen again, and that money will have to be made up – with higher tuitions and taxes.
Football made Penn State, and now it is going to break it.
And about Joe Paterno.
He should have called 911. He shouldn’t have left it to his superiors to decide. He dropped the ball.
But he did force Sandusky out of the football program. In fact, the only person who did anything to distance Jerry Sandusky from Penn State was Joe Paterno.
That doesn’t make him a saint.
But it doesn’t make him the devil, either.
In fact, this effort to rewrite history runs up against the fact that five decades of students, players, fans and administrators found Joe Paterno to be the most values-based man they knew.
He demanded his players be both gentlemen and scholars. There were no NCAA sanctions – unlike virtually every other program in the country – and there was one of the highest graduation rates in the country.
And countless hundreds of thousands of Penn State people came away living an ethic that said it’s not just about winning, it’s about winning right – with integrity.
The irony here is that the worst sanction in NCAA history has been leveled against the program of a man who was one of its best coaches ever.
Who may have been one of its best people ever.
It’s almost as if they feel a need to prove that he was no better than they were, that they can destroy him in death if they could not equal him in life.
It’s a mob mentality.
In an earlier day, if Paterno were still alive, they’d hang him from a tree.
Not because it was just, but because the hysteria of the moment demanded it.
They have carted away Joe Paterno’s statue. Maybe they will melt it down and sell coins made from it as some sort of fund-raiser. They have taken away 14 seasons and moved him from first to twelfth on the all-time winning list. They have gutted a program to make sure that it never rises to what it once was, to make sure that the legacy of Joe Paterno is dead and gone.
They haven’t killed it, but they have driven a stake through its heart.
And now Penn State fans are left to pretend that the last 50 years never happened.
- by Bob Lonsberry © 2012