The Confidential

The ACC Sports Blog

Penn State & Death Penalty

Wow.  Already we have a respected commentator suggesting that Penn State should drop football for a year or two.  ESPN’s Lester Munson states as follows:

Consider the cancellation of the football program for a period of at least two years. It might not be possible to establish a new culture without the total elimination of the old one. A two-year hiatus might be the only way to eliminate a systemic problem. How important is football to an institution of higher learning that serves 95,000 students and is supposed to be dedicated to the pursuit of excellence? When Tulane University was caught in a basketball point-shaving scandal in the mid-1980s, the university leadership eliminated the sport for several years to allow a complete renewal of values. When the U.S. Congress discovered a series of abuses in 2008 in its page program, which was designed to offer opportunities to young people, the members of Congress agreed to eliminate it altogether.

He also notes just how hard that would be for the Board of Trustees to do.  So let’s not kid ourselves about the likelihood of that happening.

But it remains a possibility.  And, if it did happen, what would the repercussions be?

Your answer will be the “denial” answer.  Why even think about that which cannot happen?

To that, the Confidential notes that this is a scandal of unprecedented terms:

#1  The SMU scandal involved paying players.  To be sure, that is cheating.  However, it hardly violates the 10 Commandments.  It violates an NCAA rule that seeks to promote amateurism in sports.  Big difference.

#2 Another scandal involved the cover-up of a murder at Baylor.  The cover-up of a murder by the basketball coach is certainly reprehensible.  But it was a one-time incident, rather than systemic.  The murder victim was not a child.

Compare to the instant matter.  More than 99% of the country finds child sexual abuse reprehensible and disgusting.  Things get wishy-washy when a parent is criminally charged for a severe or unique punishment of a child.  That is partially why Bobby Knight remained a polarizing figure.  When it comes to discipline, things get murkier for some.  Child sexual abuse is never defended.  It is always taboo and properly so.  There is no excuse for not doing the maximum to prevent it.  It is newsworthy whenever it is reported.  There is no defense by those who commit it.

And that is where Penn State finds itself… straddling the line between committing it and enabling it.  If one imputes the conduct of Sandusky to the University, that is bad enough.  Molesting children on trips to watch bowl games or in the locker room is terrible.  Not ensuring that this repeat offender be criminally investigated is inexcusable. That’s the message that is being sent.  Sure, Joe Paterno may or may not be more culpable than others… but this all happened at Penn State. And the odds are that Sandusky did not start doing this in 1998.

But ask your grandmother what she thinks of this scandal?  She’ll know about it and have an opinion.  That is why this situation is drastic.

If you are Penn State, trying to make this go away quickly can have a backlash.  Those watching from afar will not be pleased if there is not an appropriate response. This is the type of no-lose situation for Congress to get involved in and hold hearings about: has college athletics gotten too big to police itself?  Who, other than the colleges, will oppose this?  In fact, there will be college professors supporting the inquiry.  And I am sure the IRS wouldn’t mind convincing folks that we should be done pretending that athletic departments are entitled to the same tax breaks as charities and churches.  The vultures will be circling.

Meanwhile, there sits Penn State.  If it says that it “cannot cancel football,” that fuels the fire of those who would see a college sports environment where the schools are simply unable or unwilling to police themselves.  If it cancels football, it will suffer financially and endure a major hit to its reputation.  But it will also begin the process of rebuilding its reputation.  And its leadership may conclude that it is the only way to truly rebuild its reputation.

And Penn State is better situated to recover than SMU.  Penn State is a major public institution.  It has a local and national following.  There will always be 45,000 students streaming through.  It has the markets.  It can survive.

So let’s not pretend it is impossible.  Even if unlikely, it is possible.

Then what?

Even if for two years, the 12-team Big 10 suddenly becomes an 11 team conference.  Under NCAA rules, no championship game.  Meanwhile, the biggest embarrassment in college sports took place within the Big 10. Compounding improbability upon improbability, could the Big 10 go in a different direction?  At that point, Penn State would be a shell of itself in the one thing that matters most–college football.  But the Big 10 prides itself on academics, and Penn State would not suffer there.  There would still be the research consortium.  And all the non-revenue-generating sports.  Just does not seem likely.

But as long as we are talking remote possibilities, how ironic would it be if Penn State ended up separating from the Big 10 and joining the Big East.  A Big East without Pitt and Syracuse.  A Big East without West Virginia and Boston College.   In this crazy world where the Big 10 has 12 teams, the Big 12 has 10 teams, and the Big East is considering San Diego St., we have long since moved past the idea of things working out in an orderly fashion.  So, yeah, we might as well throw irony into the mix too.  We are beyond the point of being surprised.


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