Penn State, Blame and the NCAA

I wasn’t sure I was going to write about this, but I guess I am.  Wish I didn’t feel the need, or that there was anything to write about.  But there you go.  I’m not going to recount the details at any level.  That’s been done plenty in other places.

I have been fascinated by this story.  Not by the crimes, the terrible failures of leaders, the men who stood by and did nothing in exactly the situation where any person with a shred of compassion would have taken marked action.  Those things are tragic, but I think speak more to social inertia and to the incredible failure of a system that is supposedly designed to protect our youth. I don’t want to hear more of that than I already have.

I am, though, fascinated by the reaction of those uninvolved, or at least those whose involvement goes not further than their connection with the school, the football program, the coach, or to sports in general.  People who have made their voice heard on talk radio shows, ESPN, local newspapers and, of course, the Interwebs.  And far, far too many have spoken up in defense of Joe Paterno.  (For the record, I define too many, in this case, as any number greater than zero.)

Much of the bickering is over at whose feet would should lay the blame for this tragedy.  Some, quite understandably, demand the blame belongs to the perpetrator.  No argument here.  There’s not a punishment great enough.  But many of those people defend the coach, as he reported what he heard through “proper channels.”  The administration handed it to the police.  The police investigated and decided nothing need be done.  Time marched on, as did the string of events and victims.  The system failed.  Which of the people should take the blame?

Here’s the thing.  There’s no need to point fingers in the chain of command.  Every last one of these men are culpable.  Those who are concerned about the “legend” of JoePa are in arms that he was fired over the phone.  Stay tuned.  It’s not out of the question that a prosecutor decides to go ballistic on this case and file charges against everyone who knew anything.  And I have to admit, I’d be just fine with that.  If you knew something, anything, and stood idly by, that in my mind makes you part of what happened.

There’s another aspect that I’m waiting to hear, and that’s the NCAA response.  On the same day that Paterno was fired, ESPN ran this story that Ohio State (sorry, THE Ohio State) “will face a ‘failure to monitor’ charge in addition to more allegations of rules violations by its troubled football program.”  That big deal about players getting free tattoos seems a little silly now, right?  Are you sure that “failure to monitor” note wasn’t intended for someone a little further east?

The NCAA is ready to step in whenever revenue is threatened or there is a perceived inequity in player treatment.  Except Cam Newton, of course.  How could they consider standing idle in this case?  It may be that they are waiting for the facts to come out, then plan to step in.  I hope that’s the case.  If not, it will be as great a failure as they have ever had.  They have handed out their “death penalty” to programs for recruiting and eligibility violations.  They take the team off the field, cancel scholarships, take away bowl and television appearances.

If you want to make sure schools, not to mention anyone who works for or with those schools in the capacity of watching over youths who come their way, take this to heart, you need to make a statement.  A bold one.

Take away the Penn State football program. 

I don’t mean a few scholarships.  I don’t mean their bowl rights.  I don’t mean their wins.  I mean the whole thing.  Shut it down.  Shut it down tomorrow.  Tell the world that there is a price to be paid by anyone who is in any way connected to this kind of crime.  There will be no more cover ups or hush money.  There will be a much higher standard applied going forward.  And it would be voluntary.  But it can only be driven home with a sledgehammer.  When you are done, stand aside and let them throw the bunch of them, Sandusky, Paterno, McQueary, Schultz, Curley, and anyone else involved, in jail. They each should bear the responsibility of what they have wrought.


  1. Whoa, well you said it all. And this does make my beloved The Ohio State look like choir boys.

  2. I strongly agree with you.

    I have been outraged, as well, over the student protests. Not that they are protesting, but what spurred them. Why weren’t the protesting the college’s blind eye to the rape of a child? Why was that okay, but terminating the facilitating leader causes riots?

    • Thanks, April. I can’t imagine what would drive someone to protest, other than just following a herd. Which is what happens a lot in college, I guess. But I hope the kids who are there now get to see a lesson in responsibility first hand.

  3. Thank you, thank you, thank you… i love this and am so glad you wrote it. It is sickening to me how people are standing behind a program and an institution and forgetting about the ruined lives of countless boys.

  4. Dwayne,

    I have a blog post half way written regarding Penn State. Joe Paterno and those involved should be severely punished. I do feel for those football players who have given it their all, came to practice every single day. So we penalize the entire school leaving the players as collateral damage. Sounds like the quick and easy solution. Much like when a scandal rocks a corporate they fire everyone and start fresh.

    I disagree with you. I think what happened is unthinkable, disgusting, and repulsive, but let’s not damage more innocent victims lives. I can’t even imagine the kind of monster who did those kind of things to children let alone the monster that swept it under the rug.


    • Hey, we can debate. It’s part of the process.

      Should we penalize the whole school? If you want to send a message, yes. The institution failed these children. No two ways about it.

      The players? Harder to say. I haven’t heard anything that would suggest any player had knowledge, but I’m not comfortable saying there is no chance. I think a fair alternative would be to release the players from their commitment and allow them to transfer without sitting a year. Will that impact some of them? Of course. But it also sends a message that you better know about the school and their moral standing before you commit.

      Killing off one of the most prestigious college football programs would, I think, be neither quick nor easy. It’s a tough decision to make and to execute. As to your comparison to corporate cleansing, let’s not forget the nature of these crimes. If this were Toys R Us (to name a company that leans heavily on children as a target market), you don’t think there would be a call to shut them down? Could you imagine a child having these experiences in the back room or the front office, then the trauma of watching their ads every Christmas?

      Penn State is a huge name in college football. Their logo and name are everywhere. That will haunt these kids. It’s not right, it’s not fair, but there is something that can be done about it.

  5. I don’t think Penn State should get the death penalty. Instead, they should have to suffer the indignity of going from being a perennial contender to watching the tumbleweeds blow through their 100,000 seat stadium as they struggle to recruit players that probably wouldn’t get a look by Division 2 schools. That’s far worse punishment for a program than not having a program at all…says the USC alum.

    • USC has felt that pain. But I think seeing the program gone would be just as bad. Heck, throw in a clause that they can’t repurpose the stadium or tear it down. Take all the money that would go into the program and funnel to children’s charities. The school will just have to do without the funds or the football income. Which will cripple the school, in all likelihood. I’m OK with that too.

  6. First things first; I don’t know why Mike McQueary is still on the coaching staff. Isn’t he the guy who allegedly witnessed an assault? If that young kid was his brother, or in any way related to him, what would he have done? Secondly, shutting down the program is a tad far-fetched. This is not like SMU that had an athletic department that, despite getting busted on a number of occasions, kept paying players because “they had a payroll to meet”. What’s happening here is serious a lot more serious, but the people that should be punished are the adults chose to turn a blind eye while all this went down. None of the players on the team had anything to do with it, so why punish them?

    • As I said above, I agree with that to a point. Let the players transfer. That’s fine. But the price Penn State pays for this should be crippling.

  7. I absolutely agree that anyone who had anything to do with or any knowledge of this atrocity should go down in flames. I do not, however, believe that the innocent parties (especially the players who had nothing to do with it) should be punished.

    • Let’s divide the “innocent” into two categories. A player who had nothing to do with it is one thing, and I think allowing them to transfer would be fine. An administrator who knew nothing, but is part of a culture that allowed it to happen, is going to face blowback, even if indirectly. Even if not directly involved, a message should be sent that stresses the accountability of everyone for the actions of the few when an institution like this is involved. That my opinion, anyway.

  8. I would presume that the NCAA (or at least I would hope) will eventually issues sanctions that should be “path finding.” I can visualize them severely restricting scholarship and banning bowl play (hopefully for a good decade at the minimum). I pray that the NCAA will take the high road on this one and make Penn State football “pay up” big time.

    Incidentally, Penn State has one of the highest in-state tuition rates in the country, at roughly $14,000 for residents. The state will need to find some other creative ways to help fund the academic side (other than through their football business).

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