Typically I leave commentary on Penn State to my colleague Chris Morelli – but between the Freeh report, the statue removal, and the NCAA sanctions I feel compelled to add my voice to the chorus. Last November I penned a column on gantdaily.com regarding this scandal and if you didn’t read it I encourage you to do so now – and before I go on, know that I stand behind everything I wrote that day.
Perspective – it is crucial when making big decisions, yet so easily lost in the heat of the moment. Events like this tend to polarize people – I’ve talked to many people who more or less want to shut Penn State down for this, and I’ve talked to as many (or perhaps more) who just want to know when the football season starts and think Paterno is an unwitting victim. Such polarity does not lend itself to consensus, nor to good decisions unless appropriate time is taken to consider all facets of a situation.
Consider that every Hall of Fame requires a 5-year waiting period before voting on retired players – why? PERSPECTIVE. After five years, it’s much easier to gauge a player’s entire career, not just the last few seasons which more often than not are the worst of his career. In some cases, time does not clear a player of controversy (hello, Pete Rose), but in most cases it allows for a clearer discussion and debate about a player’s relative merits. If we are willing to take some extra time to make sure Hall of Fame voters have proper perspective, should we not attempt to do the same after negative events?
Note that I’m not specifically referring to the Freeh report here – I know that some are critical of the Freeh report, including the Paterno family (as an aside, what did anyone expect, that a report that is critical of Joe Paterno would be happily accepted by his wife and children?? I’m not sure why their statements are newsworthy) – but I think almost everyone would concede that the report was thorough and that the university wisely both funded and fully cooperated with the investigation. It would be hard for me to argue that the report was completed in haste, or that Mr. Freeh and his colleagues were given anything less than free access to all available information. As a result I believe the report is quite credible, thorough, and describes a culture in need of change.
I’m also not referring to the removal of the statue – Penn State had no options there, they either had to guard the statue 24/7 or risk recurring vandalism. There was no need to keep this as a headline story, so I believe that in the current tension-filled environment, the statue had to come down.
No, I’m referring to the NCAA’s incredibly hasty sanctions. I find it extremely disturbing that the NCAA bypassed their own investigation protocols here. Typically an NCAA investigation takes well over a year, and sometimes MANY years to reach conclusions. SMU received the only NCAA death penalty to date, for the 1987 season – for violations that occurred from 1979-1983! I acknowledge that the Freeh report was a big help to the NCAA, allowing for a much shorter investigation – but I still would have expected the NCAA to take a few months to corroborate that report and draw their own conclusions before imposing sanctions. I believe that the NCAA lost perspective and got caught up in the hype surrounding this situation – and in so doing, imposed sanctions that may not have the effect they intended.
Forget about the vacated wins –that’s a purely symbolic move aimed at Paterno’s legacy. Forget the fine, I think it’s a great move and worthy but it won’t affect the culture one bit. Focus on the ‘meat’ of the sanctions – a 4-year bowl ban and loss of scholarships. How, exactly, will this change the culture? Look at USC, Alabama, Ohio State – this situation is more serious than all of their scandals, yet the punishment is remarkably similar and unlikely to make any substantive change. Alabama has been on probation three times in the last 20 years, with associated bowl bans and loss of scholarships – they are the defending national champions! USC suffered little from the Reggie Bush pay-for-play scandal and is projected as a top-5 team again.
Sure, Penn State may be ‘down’ a little for a year or two, but I doubt they will field teams as poor as the 2000-2004 Lions – those squads went a combined 26-33, including 7-16 in 2003-04! Throughout those poor seasons, Beaver Stadium was almost filled every week. Given Penn State’s incredibly soft nonconference schedule the next three years, I find it almost impossible to believe they will finish any season below .500 – and I think it’s likely they will have at least one season with 10 wins. The football-crazed fan base will rally around even the slightest success, and by 2017 I think things will be more or less back to the way they were – different leaders, same program. Is that REALLY what the NCAA wanted?
In my opinion the NCAA should have taken a ‘deep breath’, allowed this season to go on as scheduled – even with the cloud of scandal hanging over it – and taken some time to REALLY review what the best options were. It’s also my belief that a one-year shutdown in 2013 would have been more effective than the sanctions that were actually imposed – that would have forced EVERYONE to take a step back and revisit how important football really is relative to the rest of the university. In short, it would have allowed a little perspective.
At one point I believe Penn State really DID do things ‘the right way’, and that ‘The Grand Experiment’ was a noble undertaking. As with so many things, however, the program got so big and so successful – and the people surrounding it so powerful – that protecting the program and themselves became more important than anything else. That does NOT make anyone other than Sandusky a monster, it makes them human – corruptible, flawed, just like the rest of us – and reinforces the need for powerful checks and balances, not just at Penn State, but in EVERY organization.
Dave Glass can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.