Will Lack Of Penn State ‘Death Penalty’ Uncover More NCAA Issues?

By CHRIS DUFRESNE, Los Angeles Times

A good rule of thumb is to never build a statue of anyone living, and rarely of anyone dead.

Someone recently suggested to Saban that the football coach at Alabama, dating to Bear Bryant, had potentially dangerous power.

“Well, you know, it’s not true if that’s the perception,” Saban said.

Penn State is a reminder, though, of why light needs to be shined into the dark corners of a democracy that loves tailgating.

Interestingly, the opposite is happening. Coaches with $5-million salaries have a virtual stranglehold over operations and players. Postgame locker rooms used to be open — now they are closed. Player access to the media has become increasingly limited.

The narrative at most powerful programs is controlled, with puppet strings, by the head coach. Anyone think this will change?

For years, the NCAA operated in the catacombs, revealing about as much of itself as Hoover’s FBI. The NCAA was also once ruled a monopoly by the Supreme Court, which is the reason it lost control of Division I football.

The NCAA this week became more dictatorial — they claim it’s only temporary! — when the organizational body gave Emmert unprecedented power to expedite an unprecedented case. It then bypassed due process to move swiftly and harshly against Penn State.

Machiavelli would have applauded.

What exactly, though, hath the NCAA wrought? Time will decide whether it sufficiently crippled Penn State, or mobilized it. Did it spare the school the “death penalty” and a TV ban to protect its own fiduciary interests?

Football-crazed powers not killed by the NCAA tend to defy it. Miami and Alabama won national titles within a decade of so-called “punitive” sanctions. USC is poised to compete for a national title in the third year of major probation.

Penn State coach Bill O’Brien, on a conference call this week, outlined a potential artery weakness in the NCAA’s actions.

“They let us play football and let us be on TV,” O’Brien said. “We can play football in a beautiful stadium in front of passionate fans. … I understand we can’t go to a bowl game; I really do. But how many bowl games are played in front of 108,000 fans? … We play six or seven bowl games a year right here.”

Because it balked at putting Penn State out of business, the NCAA is in the unique position of actually needing one of its member institutions to fail. It also set the bar for egregiousness lower than the booster payouts that led to Southern Methodist’s “death penalty” in 1987.

The NCAA meted out to Penn State one more year of probation than it gave Caltech.

What if Penn State doesn’t fail? Are there unintended consequences we have not yet contemplated? Might one of those be the wholesale, unseemly poaching of Nittany Lions players?

The answers await us all.


Beaver Stadium–Loudest, Most Intimidating Place–OSU Player Comments

I agree with the NCAA (for once) that an example must be made of Pennsylvania State University.  The prestige of the football program came, in the minds of those in charge at PSU, before the health and safety of children. That will never, EVER, be acceptable.  The NCAA made sure that message was clear. Now the student-athletes who stepped unknowingly into a crumbling house are put to a decision. Stay and start to rebuild the program damaged by their predecessors, or jump ship and start anew in another place.

I want to preface my arguments by saying that I am somewhat, slightly, a little bit qualified to explore these possibilities.  Not only did I play Big Ten football, I grew up as a huge fan of the Nittany Lions.  Only when Joe Paterno completely skipped over me in the recruitment process did I lose my Lion pride and don the colors of THE Ohio State Buckeyes.  I then developed a hatred for Penn State, especially when they beat us in Happy Valley my freshman year.

I will never forget sitting on the bus on the way to the airport after the game, talking to QB Robby Schoenhoft. We promised each other that we would never lose to them again (which as of Monday, turned out to be true!).  A year later, I shook the old man’s hand and thanked him.  Little did he know that I was thanking him for not recruiting me and allowing me to become a Buckeye.  I swear he had the softest hand I have ever shaken.

They had chosen a program to play for a living legend in one of the most historic settings in America.  I believe I speak for the vast majority of my former teammates when I say that Beaver Stadium is the loudest and most intimidating place (outside of Columbus) that we ever played.  In fact, when the crowd, entirely clad in white, starts jumping and chanting simultaneously to the trance of “Zombie Nation”, it is almost disorienting.  I remember turning around in 2005 and seeing a group of ladies no younger than 70 jumping and screaming at the top of their lungs.  I am not exaggerating when I say that it felt like the whole stadium was bouncing around us.  Simply put, it is an absolutely incredible experience to play in Beaver Stadium.

The only loyalties in question are those to the fans of Penn State and most importantly, to each other.  Joining a football team is more like joining a family.  Those young men have fought, bled, and pushed for each other, and that brotherhood is not going to be easy to walk away from.  At Ohio State, we call it a “Sacred Brotherhood”, and the commitment is not one to be taken lightly.  Walking away from this family would surely be one of the hardest things a young man could do.

Despite this, so much has changed in the past few months that has severely jeopardized everything these players want.  They chose Penn State to play for Big Ten and National Championships.  Those goals are not even possibilities for the remainder of most team members’ eligibility.  There will be no BCS bowls, or even bowl games against the University of Houston.  The best these guys can hope for is a competitive 12-game season in a place that they undoubtedly love.  Is that enough?

Those who stay with the Nittany Lions will be revered.  They will be the men who look adversity in the face and fight for what they believe in.  A group has already released a statement saying that they will stay together and play football in Happy Valley.  I, for one, commend their loyalty.  Looking back, it would be very hard for me to leave Columbus should something major have happened during my time with the Buckeyes.  Then again, it is impossible for me to comprehend what it would be like to have my entire world turned upside down.

I cannot imagine playing a season without the ultimate goals even being a possibility.  However, I would not be able to walk away from my best friends and brothers.  They are the ones I was playing for when it was all said and done.  Those are the guys who went through everything with me, and this would not be the time to turn my back on them.  The Big Ten is a better conference with a strong team in Happy Valley, and I sincerely hope that they are competitive again sooner rather than later.  Best of luck to the boys in blue and white as they battle the seemingly insurmountable odds.  I know I will be rooting for them 11 weeks out of the year.

Penn State’s “Apollo 13”-Our Best Moment to Shine! We ARE!!

from Harrisburg Patriot News

It’s been a Nittany Lion nightmare like no other. And more than a few national media types have opined that Penn State might never recover.

There still will be a university in State College, but it won’t be your father’s Penn State. There still will be football, but it won’t be expect-success Penn State football. And there still will be fans in the cavernous Beaver Stadium stands, but they won’t be the legions of Lions loyalists whose zeal saw the Erector Set more than double in capacity over 45 years.

So why not turn out the lights, write the epitaph and bury the dead?

Turns out, someone forgot to send the coroner’s report to a muted but recovering Happy Valley. No one handed a death certificate to the chin-out, give-me-your-best-shot new coach.

Sifting through the ashes of the NCAA sanctions that have all but hamstrung his team, Bill O’Brien and his surprisingly stalwart players see not punishment, but opportunity.

And on the streets of State College and the corridors of campus, something is stirring. Anger, yes. Wounded pride, to be sure. But also resolve.

Standing together

Fines of $60 million, sharply reduced football scholarships and a blistering four-year bowl ban. But as the week has worn on, fans, residents and students have been busy picking up the pieces.

They’ve liked what the new coach and most of his players have had to say — and more importantly, what they’re doing: standing together. They’ve bristled at the national media, who have made the coming season not about football, but rather, Penn State against the world.  More than anything, they’ve circled a date on the calendar: Saturday, Sept. 1. Penn State’s first home game. A chance to make a statement and begin anew.

Then, Nittany Nation rises.

State College residents who normally don’t attend games — yes, there are some — are vowing to be there. It’s personal now.  But in coming in their team’s colors to watch football, they aren’t forgetting Sandusky’s victims or diminishing the life-altering horrors they suffered at such young ages. Far from it.  They insist that supporting the victims and cheering a football team far removed from the scandal aren’t mutually exclusive.  And this town, this campus, needs — craves — a catharsis.  “It’s going to be electric,” gushes Andrew Hanselman, a Class of ’12 grad who plans to be there for his team’s new beginning.  He likens what’s happening in State College to a scene in the new Batman movie, “The Dark Knight Rises.”  “You’ve given your all,” someone tells the cowled hero, who has been sidelined by scandal of his own.  “No. Not all,” Batman replies, before getting back into the game.  “It’s rising up,” the 23-year-old Hanselman says of the community and its team. “I want us to raise hell.”

“It’s not over,” season-ticket holder Gary Patterson scoffs at the Sports Illustrated cover.  “I’m third-generation Penn State,” says the Class of ’58 alum who kept his vow to return to State College after he retired. “It’s more than a school. It’s my family.”

But will it feel the same with so much of Penn State’s tradition now viewed through the dark filter of scandal and cover-up, a full 14 years of wins having been wiped away?

“It’s tainted,” Patterson cedes, his school’s proud past looking as faded as his Rose Bowl cap from the 1995 victory over Oregon. “It’s going to take a while for that to be removed.”  But he likes the new coach and his determined players. O’Brien is saying every home date can be a bowl game before Beaver Stadium’s 108,000 fans.  If they turn out. After all, this is something completely new. A new coach. A new tradition. And, perhaps, new uniforms that complete the break with the past.

“I expect a full house,” Patterson says. “We are Penn State. We will survive.”  If only State College businesses could be so sure.

Businesses remain anxious

For some businesspeople, their Happy Valley brand has become a sad punchline, and their smiles have been replaced with tight lips of worry.  There’s an undercurrent of fear that their gridiron gravy train is over. The golden goose of Penn State football, rendered infertile by the searing scandal and crippling sanctions.  “Gloom and doom” says Rebecca Durst, owner of Rinaldo’s Barber Shop, a State College crossroads of conversation since 1925.  And this is what she’s been hearing from worried business people in for a trim:  “They say, ‘Our sales are going to be down,'” Durst recounts. “At least there’s going to be a football season.”  Instead of breathing a sigh of relief that Penn State dodged what could have been a business-busting, four-year death penalty, the state of State College commerce remains on pins and needles over whether the new Nittany Lions can make the cash registers ring like teams past.  “Wait and see how it goes,” Durst advises her neurotic Nittany Nation business owners. “And if revenues are down a little bit?”  She shrugs. “People are still going to come to the games.”  Yet many will do so attempting to cling to the past, and a deceased — some say, disgraced — coach named Paterno.  “A lot of people in the community can’t let go of the Joe Paterno legacy,” says Durst, who has heard these confessions directly from her football-crazed customers.  “Let’s be realistic. I think it’s not healthy to idolize a person to this degree,” adds the 26-year resident, who never bought into the town’s Paterno-centered cult of personality.  “We need to get past that,” Durst implores. “We need to move forward. It should be a new mind-set.”

Fresh from a chamber of commerce-style meeting where the frayed nerves of 200-plus State College-area businesspeople moved from concern to conviction, Mike Desmond insists both town and gown are turning the corner — and the page.  “Business owners are concerned about making their numbers and staying in business,” acknowledges Desmond, the co-owner of the Hotel State College & Co. “But that attitude is turning around.”

‘Fans will back this team’

The last thing State College can afford is pessimistic business people. It would undercut the Happy Valley brand.  That’s why Desmond and another businessman commissioned a new sign that has been popping up in shop windows all over town.  The blue-and-white placard reads simply: “Proud To Support Penn State Football.”  For many, it says it all.  Desmond commissioned an initial 3,000 printing, but his secretary, Vicky Lumpkin, has been cranking out many more.  “What’s left?” she asks rhetorically of Penn State’s proud past. “We’re left. You can just feel the spirits of the community starting to pick ourselves up by our bootstraps.”

Larry Jacobson drove 17 miles from his suburban home just to pick up a handful of the signs at The Corner Room, downstairs from the hotel. He’s a State College transplant, but has developed strong ties over his 17 years there.

He’ll post the signs all around his property, where they’ll be visible on Route 45. And this year, instead of watching the football games at home, the 55-year-old and his family will set foot in Beaver Stadium.  “Life stops for Penn State football,” he laughs.

But there’s so much more to Penn State. Many of Jacobson’s Spring Mills neighbors work for the university, and he’s constantly amazed at the myriad advances in a variety of fields spawned right here.  “When you talk to people and find out what’s going on, it’s fantastic,” he says.

“We are Penn State, no question about it,” Jacobson adds when shown the dark Sports Illustrated cover. “It’s no different.”  Then he considers this and changes his mind. Yes, it is different. It’s better.  “Stronger than ever,” Jacobson says. “More aware.”

Terry Padden is an alumni director for Bethel University in Tennessee, but lately the State College resident has been spreading the message of Penn State on his seven-state travels. He stops by the hotel for some signs to take to Scranton, hometown of Lions’ quarterback Matt McGloin. Padden plans to give them to McGloin’s dad.

“I’ve never seen such a response by the community,” he says, shaking his head and including himself in this.  “I’ve never gone to football games,” Padden confides. “I’m going now. Wins and losses — no one can tell. But I believe it will be a strong season for attendance.”  Byron Forsythe’s fortunes couldn’t be tied any more obviously to a football team. Penn State paraphernalia surrounds the assistant manager of Rapid Transit Sports on Allen Street. But instead of panicking over Penn State’s post-scandal drawing power, he’s laughing.

Notre Dame coach-turned-ESPN commentator Lou Holtz recently predicted a veritable Beaver Stadium ghost town of 55,000 fans for this season.  “He’s crazy,” scoffs Forsythe, a season-ticket holder. “There’s no way. The fans will back this team without question. People are going to be surprised.”  After months of talk by outsiders, Penn State and State College will make their statement come Sept. 1. But before this, there are about 40,000 close friends to welcome — the university’s small army of returning students.  They will start pouring in next month. And State College is planning to fling open its arms and roll out the red carpet to make the kids feel good about their college choice following months of negativity and oceans of unrelenting criticism.  Desmond sees it as a homecoming for the ages. Then, the full Penn State family will be back together. And ready to take on the world.

As for Sports Illustrated, or anyone else attempting to write off Penn State, he has a simple message endorsed by nearly everyone in the State College Zip code:

“Stay tuned.”