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College Football Week 1: Rise of the Tech-ola Crap, the Fall of Big Schools #2’s

Around the country, top teams struggled with lesser competition. I’m not even going to count Ohio beating Penn State and Nevada downing Cal in new Memorial Stadium-Florida, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, and Georgia all struggled on some level to put away lesser, unheralded mid-majors at home. Pitt lost to FCS Youngstown State-by two scores at home, and Maryland barely got by William and Mary. Of course, Duke went out and crushed upstart Florida International, so who knows.

As I reflect on this phenomenon, I’d cite two reasons, beyond the Appalachian State effect. First there’s the super-conference effect: teams in every conference, not just the SEC are playing tougher conference schedules and can only count on so many carries from their stars in early season games (Rex Burkhead not coming back for Nebraska against Southern Miss, for example.) Depth has been depleted not just by scholarship reductions, but transfers. Two, all the mid-majors know they are going to have chances to move up, and need to showcase themselves in these games.

Florida, if you wanted an easier week one opponent, you should have scheduled a Big 10 team. But let’s not scorn Michigan-they took on the challenge of Alabama and there isn’t as much shame in being humbled by the nation’s best program and coach happens. The serious causaulty is that Dennard Robinson got hurt again. And speaking of the ‘Nard Dawg, shouldn’t Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez be even more commended for sliding and getting help with his passing game in light of Robinon’s constant injuries?

Big 10 teams exhausting lead backs in Week 1. Le’Veon Bell, Damon Bullock, and Montee Ball all needed to tote the rock more than thirty times to lead their teams to victory. Meanwhile, Nebraska lost their workhorse back Burkhead and thrived on offense. With all these teams exhausting their running backs with big games still to come, it could be long years in East Lansing, Madison, and Iowa City. Iowa has the most to be concerned about, with their losses at tailback in the off-season. But Michigan State and Wisconsin have new quarterbacks who should help shoulder the load as the season goes on.

The biggest assistant coaching gain and loss may have been on display in the Georgia Dome Saturday night, as Clemson’s defense, now under the leadership of Brent Venables, stopped Auburn’s offense, now minus Gus Malzahn. Nothing made me happier last year than watching Clemson revive their tradition behind a funky offense with Tahj Boyd and Sammy Watkins; with Venables, they could shoot into the stratosphere.

It’s only one loss, but the slow trot toward exile begins at PSU. The Nittany Lions are going to get every teams best shot, as teams know they are down. And judging by Bill O’Brien’s press conference, he doesn’t have the personality of an elite recruiter. Ouch. With games at Virginia, and home against Temple and Navy, Penn State is going to struggle to get a win in September.

Final point: great to see Erin Andrews hosting on Fox, but seriously, could ABC or Fox have a competitive game to switch to at least?

Penn State Sanction: Cruel and Hypocritical

Finally, some thoughts on the Penn State NCAA sanctions.

To surmise, I don’t have a problem with the NCAA giving Penn State a penalty. What I do have a problem with is the NCAA fining Penn State $600 and then telling their fans they have to fill Beaver Stadium seven Saturdays a year for the next ten years, at the same ticket prices they’ve been paying (and even higher as the years go on).

The NCAA knew the death penalty could obliterate PSU football (and decimate their non-revenue sports). So they decided, let’s keep the program going and force them to play with a lesser team. But even though fans just root for the clothes, they won’t root for these clothes if the product in them is struggling to be on par with Purdue.

Penn State has to do something financially for the victims of sexual abuse and Jerry Sandusky, no question. But you cannot send the program to the doldrums. PSU drew just under 98,000 fans for their game against Illinois, 10,000 under capacity, when the team was 7-1. How many people are going to show up when Bill O’Brien is going 3-9?

The NCAA set a heavy precedent with the USC sanction for the Reggie Bush’s trangression, and by the looks of things, they were trying to double up here. But just giving Penn State the same penalty as USC (2 year bowl ban, 10 scholarships a year over 3 years, for a total of 30 lost) would have been greater, given how much deeper USC’s talent base is and how much more “well adjusted” USC. But we shouldn’t expect the NCAA to understand situational punishment or spirit of the law over letter of the law.

I have asked several people who aren’t college football fans if they think Penn State football should be given the death penalty, and all of them have said no (many of these people work in education). Really, NCAA, if you wanted to give PSU the death penalty, you should just do it. Don’t try to save the money.

Vidcasts: Thank you and Penn State

Yesterday, I was in the middle of a long day that started out in Hasting and ended with a meeting at church at night. In between, I ran into Lincoln with my Dad to pick up my truck from my mom and bring it home. Of course, I ended up getting caught in a log-jam on the interstate, so I decided to do a couple of vidcasts, one as a thank you and another on the issues at Penn State post-Freeh report: Penn State getting NCAA sanctions (possibly the death penalty) and Joe Paterno’s statue.

Something I didn’t mention in the Penn State vidcast: while I understand a lot of the people coming into this debate who aren’t following college football regularly saying that Penn State should be given the penalty, I would say this: yes, Penn State’s lack of action is horrid, and the program needs to be punished. But a lot of other parties will get hurt in this: namely, Penn State’s non-revenue sports depend on football for funding and the Big 10 depends on Penn State. This is a “too big to fail” situation. This is not just taking away a recreational activity; this is dropping an atomic bomb, and even if it were necessary, it needs to be debated seriously.

When it comes to sanctions, remember this: USC got hit harder for Reggie Bush’s extra benefits (which mostly went to his parents) than Ohio State did for Terrelle Pryor and many other players. Ohio State was worse on so many greater levels: Jim Tressell knew about the scandal, Pete Caroll was merely ignorant. Point being, trying to predict what the NCAA will do (in a situation without precedence, no less) is next to impossible.

Again, thanks for reading and subscribe to my YouTube Channel.

To Penn State Fans: Know yourself

The other day, a Penn State fan, in response to my previous posts on the Bill O’Brien hire, informed me that I didn’t know anything about Penn State, and marveled at “how many omniscient people have been delivered to earth in the last few months.” When I  asked him to specify what he disagreed with in my post, he didn’t respond. Unfortunately, I must remain oblivious to my terrible mistake.

But it did get me thinking a little about what a lot of Penn State fans, even noted alum Todd Blackledge, have been talking about since Paterno has been fired: that whoever is hired to lead has to have an “understanding” of Penn State. At the risk of sounding preachy, let me say this to Penn State fans: you may have understanding Penn State confused with understanding winning.

I know you’re probably want to strangle me, and to your point: yes, if there were a qualified you assistant on your staff to take over, it would be great. But, not every program has a ripe young assistants or a former assistant who is blossoming at another progra ready to step in. I know you’re telling that you have Tom Bradley, but he’s a 54-year-old yes-man to Paterno, a year older than Frank Solich when he got the Nebraska job (Trust me, you don’t want to go there.) Answer me honestly: if your search committee had narrowed the list to either Bradley or Nick Saban or Bobby Petrino, would Bradley really be the guy you would want them to hire?

Just because you hire an outsider doesn’t mean you’ll forget your great coach. Even though Saban’s rolling people at Alabama, Bear Bryant will always be the man there. Oklahoma still remembers Bud Wilkinson and Barry Switzer, even though they have a great coach now in Bob Stoops. And as a Oklahoma fan noted on Colin Cowherd’s show, Wilkinson, Switzer, and Stoops were different guys, with different coaching styles. And the style of successful coaches can change from generation to generation: Bryant and Wilkinson were screamers, Stoops and Urban Meyer are tough but look much better on television.

Now, I don’t mean by this that Bill O’Brien is automatically the right guy; I’m just saying Penn State fans, you shouldn’t hold it against him that he isn’t one of yours.

A story from the program of my following, the Nebraska Cornhuskers, illustrates this point. In December of 2007, Tom Osborne interviewed both Bo Pelini, Nebraska’s defensive coordinator for a year in 2003, and Turner Gill, a Husker icon with eighteen years in the program, for Nebraska’s head coaching vacancy. While Gill had a close relationship with his former coach and boss (Osborne was the best man at Gill’s wedding), Osborne picked Pelini, and I think this played a part: as soon as he arrived on campus in the winter of 2003, Pelini blew everyone away with his demeanor and attitude, and his ability to inspire others. (Similarly, in 1994, Pelini joined the San Francisco 49ers organization as a scout, and after he spent a few weeks around the organization, they immediately made him their secondary coach. He had only been a college graduate assistant for a year.) Bottom line: Gill had the experience, but Pelini wowed people.

To surmise, my point is this: promoting an assistant who’s one of yours can be great. It worked for Penn State with Paterno forty-six years ago, it worked for Nebraska with Tom Osborne, and its even worked in the last ten years with Mike Gundy at Oklahoma State, Kyle Whittingham at Utah, or Brady Hoke at Michigan. But if you think Tom Bradley would have been a good hire because he “knows Penn State”, you are kidding yourself

End the Supremacy: Occupy the SEC!

Two days ago, I took to this blog and lamented Nebraska’s fall to a superior SEC team. It’s not just the Big Red-it’s the Big 10, and it was on display last year and this year. Other than Michigan State’s overtime win over Georgia (a game that a senior-laden team had to scratch tooth and nail to win), the Big 10 got rolled by southern teams. An off-year Ohio State team lost to an off-year team Florida. Iowa got rolled by a disappointing Oklahoma team. Michigan needs overtime to beat a Virginia Tech team who shouldn’t have gotten into the BCS. Wisconsin at least lost to a big-boy program in the Rose Bowl this year. Northwestern still can’t win a bowl game, and Nebraska’s home lay-down against the Wildcats was for naught. And of course, my Cornhuskers. It’s not even fair to pick on Penn State because their interim coach, and all the turmoil surrounding their program.

Today, I am coming with a plan: no longer am in morning, but I am proposing action. On the eve of the BCS Title game matching two SEC team, and the conference’s supremacy is at an all time high, I propose that Big 10 fans Occupy the South Eastern Conference.

Yes, I know this sounds ridiculous. That would because it is ridiculous. But the fact of the matter is, the SEC has gotten too good and powerful. Before we realize what has happened, the SEC will win eighteen out of twenty national titles (the other two likely going to USC or Texas), and many of our great northern programs will give up hope. Think about it: even with its own TV network and three stadiums that have 100,000, Penn State, Michigan, and Ohio State have only two national title game appearances since the Buckeyes’ title win.

Don’t mistake this for complaining about two SEC teams playing for the national title this year: LSU and Alabama should play for the national title, that’s the point. The SEC has gotten the best players year after, and no, it’s not their fault that Michigan couldn’t hire a great coach for ten years, or that Penn State allowed Joe Paterno to coach into his eighties, or that Nebraska has to import California’s leftover football stars. Our society is built on multiple entities sharing power, and when that balance is upset, it’s not good.

What is the downside to the SEC having all this power and prestige? Granted, I can’t think of one off the top of my head, and I can’t see one coming around the corner. But as I said, it is not good when a single entity has all the power.

What I propose is, fans of the Big 10 teams go the campuses of Auburn, Alabama, Florida, and the other SEC schools. Walk around with sign that say, “Stop hoarding all the good football players”, “Snow makes tough football players tougher”, and “Limit SEC schools to 65 scholarships”. Tell recruit their not obligated to play for the traditional southern powers, and that they can often get on the field immediately in the Big 10.

Is this nothing but the hopeless griping of an inferior conference? Yes, in all likelihood, but we in the Big 10 cannot give up. We have to do everything we can to shift the balance of power back to our schools and programs, even if it means setting up tents inside the Swamp, Between the Hedges, and in Death Valley. Colin Cowherd will mock us, and we will deserve some, but we must stay the course. It’s our only choice.

Penn State vs. Nebraska: the Game After

Before I get to today’s post, I want to say thank you again to everyone who has been reading and supporting my blog. A couple of days ago, I had one of my most views on my piece on the Penn State coaching search. Thank you.

For today’s post, I want to again return to Penn State, and reflect on the Penn State-Nebraska game that followed the week of the grand jury report and Paterno’s firing. As Nebraska fan, I took a special interest in the game, and could not have been more proud  of the sportsmanship that my team showed before and after the game. I was also pleased that Nebraska won the game although part of me wanted Nebraska to win because a week of hearing about how Penn State rose up in the face of all odds to win a game, it would have been unbearable for me to say the very least.

But as I watched the game, there was something that struck me as odd. The mood at Penn State was somber, for obvious reason: the program had exposed a have for an abuser of children, forcing the sacking the program’s icon, Joe Paterno. But I wonder as I watched the game, what does the average Joe at home think? When he watches Jay Paterno crying during a post-game interview, did they think that his whole scene at Penn State was because Paterno had lost his job, or because of the crimes that had been committed there?

Let me be clear about this: both the situations are sad and are intertwined. But the one thing I didn’t see enough of during this telecast was the ESPN-ABC announcers making that distinction and saying, the Penn State and Nebraska players came together in prayer for the victims of sexual abuse. Penn State going with a blue-out for the victims of sexual abuse. Given the regard that Joe Paterno had, I really thought that broadcast media dropped the ball in this regard; they needed to make it crystal clear that these were about the victims, not just Paterno.

Frankly, if I were a broadcast executive, I would not have shown any of the signs that said This One’s for Joe or anything that expressed support for Joe Paterno but not because I feel no sympathy for Joe Paterno. The reason I wouldn’t show the sign is, Joe Paterno, no matter how accomplished or how much he’d done for college football, had been caught in a sexual abuse scandal. If one of those victims, or really any victim of sexual abuse had been watching that game, what would they think if they saw those signs? I don’t blame the fans themselves for bringing the sign because they are fans; but if I’m the media boss, I’m not showing them on national TV.

But I understand why Jay Paterno is crying, and why Penn State fans in general are sad over his firing. Paterno’s moral image was forever ruined, and it left Nittany Lion nation and college football fans questioning his leadership. Beyond Sandusky’s crimes and his victims, it was a terrible day for college football. But at least for a few moments on the field, we could all see a new start coming.

Penn State and the NCAA: Hunting for the Truth

As I alluded to before, the question of sanctions now loom over Penn State. Both the NCAA and the Big 10 have said that they will investigate the Penn State administration for their “lack of institutional control” in the Sandusky matter. While no specific by-laws appear to have been violated, the both governing bodies likely feel the need to look into the matter, given how heinous a crime sexual abuse is.

This isn’t a time to mock the NCAA for being a toothless organization, even if they look the part. Beyond Sandusky’s crimes, there was a culture of looking the other way, and iconic Joe Paterno was at its center. What the NCAA needs to do is come into Penn State, and ask the question, why didn’t people look further into the incidents that were reported?  Why didn’t the administration report incidents to the police and follow to make sure the investigation was complete? And why wasn’t Sandusky kicked out after multiple incidents were reported? To surmise, what the NCAA needs to find out is why Penn State consistently was looking the other way.

The purpose of this report may not be to sanction Penn State, although they may deserve it. What is the concern here is an organization was used to mask criminal activity. The NCAA is in the territory where the FBI was with Al Capone; they have to get all the information on the case (or as much of it as they are able), and decide if and how Penn State should be punished, although unlike Capone, the NCAA shouldn’t go in with the direct objective to punish Penn State, but only do it if it is deemed that the school didn’t do enough to stop Sandusky or investigate him more throughly.

Here’s my take: Penn State probably does deserve some punishment, but not the harshest. Joe Paterno and most the administration has been fired, and one thing we know about how the NCAA punishes people: if you fire the culprits (Ohio State), your punishment is lessened. If you don’t (USC), you’re going to get slapped pretty good. Going back to my post yesterday, this is why Penn State shouldn’t promote Tom Bradley and should clean house on all of its assistants. Not saying they knew or were at fault for what happened, but with the NCAA, it’s best not to take chances.

One wild card in this is that, even though Paterno has been fired, there really isn’t any way to punish him. Unlike Jim Tressell, no one will hire him at his age, so there’s no point in attaching sanctions to another program. Although to be fair, he is 84, and Richard Nixon-pardon situation could be in order.

Many liberal educators will likely come out and say that Penn State deserves the death penalty, and this was an opinion I considered briefly when the scandal broke. While this incident may show the worst consequences of lack of institutional control, the death penalty is the NCAA’s harshest penalty and should only be reserved for the harshest, multiple offenders, as was witnessed in the SMU scandal. Maybe it needs to be put on the table in this instances, but it is unlikely that it would need using.

The real concern here is how a major university, and specifically, an athletic department, was used to mask criminal activity.  Before Penn State, many probably didn’t think that an athletic department could hide a pedophile, but that certainly is the case here. Could they use to be launder drug money or smuggle terrorists into the country? Those things are likely the stuff of John Grisham novels, but athletic success can blind people, and major college football has a culture of looking the other way as players and booster share $100 handshakes. If the NCAA wants to be prepared, they should make a through investigation, find out how Sandusky’s behavior was kept secret, and create a policy, perhaps similar to the personal conduct policy for NFL players, stating that universities will be subject to discipline if they engage in behavior that is criminal or damaging to the reputation of the NCAA.

Penn State: a Coaching Search that Drags on as if it were 1955

It has been nearly a month since the college football season ended, and all the open jobs have been filled except one: Penn State. This is simultaneous surprising and not surprising. On the one hand, Penn State fired Joe Paterno with three weeks left in the season, giving them plenty of time to contact a search firm. Pitt, in the same state with the same recruiting base, lost their head coach unexpectedly in mid-December, and a new coach in nine days, and a very good hire at that. With its tradition and revenue, the appeal seems natural, but of course the circumstances are quite complicated, which is why the job remains glaringly open.

Most fans thought no one would want to be the guy who followed Joe Paterno, and now with the scandal, it certainly doesn’t help matters. Sports by Brooks reported a few weeks ago that there was in fighting in the Penn State administration over whether to hire an external candidate or keep Tom Bradley, “because he know where the bodies are buried” according to a source. Colin Cowherd said on ESPN Radio shortly after Paterno was fired that Penn State job only looked better than it was because of Paterno, and that a Randy Edsall-type was the best Nittany Lion Nation could hope for. Given that Penn Live reported in mid-December that Penn State had talked recently to Duke’s David Cutcliffe and Navy’s Ken Niumatalolo after originally targeting Urban Meyer-trained Dan Mullens and Kyle Whittingham, it would seem Cowherd was accurate. And the instability in Penn State’s administration, with an acting athletic director and no permanent president, probably isn’t helping matters.

I would like to offer an apology to Penn State on behalf of my program-the turbulent stint at Nebraska by Bill Callahan probably is hurting Penn State’s ability to hire a top coach. And Michigan’s ugly three years with Rich Rodriguez probably didn’t help either.

Michigan and Nebraska are both examples of why potential coaches would think twice about taking the Penn State job. Callahan and Rodriguez were outside hires to tradition-rich, successful programs who made dramatic changes to the offense. When they met resistance, the crusty, northern fan bases where quick to turn on their coaches, and the fact that Callahan and Rodriguez were seen as outsiders only hastened their departures. Penn State, similarly, is a tradition-rich school whose expectations have been inflated by past results. Also similar to Nebraska and Michigan, Penn State has tradition been financially conservative when spending for football; the coming civil lawsuits for the university’s failure to report Sandusky to the police won’t help.

Not that there still aren’t a lot of positives about Penn State: the 100,000 seat stadium yields roughly $50 million in ticket revenue (assuming seven home games), plus the money from the Big 10 network and the newly created Big 10 championship game probably puts Penn State’s total football revenue around $75-$80 million, as high as any top football program in the nation (although a lot of that goes into non-revenue sports). There are traditions and expectation, which over the long run are good. Penn State can also sell itself as the football school, in a football conference, to the recruits in the northeast, from Boston down through D.C.

I would postulate there is another parallel with Nebraska, and Penn State’s other rivalry via similar culture, Iowa, share that will ultimately help Penn State get at least a good coach: willingness to keep a coach that maybe doesn’t win huge but wins consistently. Iowa often gripes about what they have to pay Kirk Ferentz because of his NFL overtures, but they don’t mind keeping around, even with more losses to Northwestern than ten-plus win seasons. Similarly, Nebraska has kept its criticism of Bo Pelini on the lighter side, after the Steve Pedersen made the Cornhuskers look like a win at all costs program. My prediction is, while Penn State maybe a rough-and-tumble job if you go about it the wrong way (Rodriguez didn’t anticipate how much bigger the spotlight got, West Virginia to a more visible program), but it is a job where you can survive a couple of six or seven win seasons in a row, as Ferentz does at Iowa. Of course, if you are a bad coach, or a career assistant in the head coach’s chair (ala Callahan), you’ll get found out quickly, and the road out of town will be unpleasant to say the least.

That leads to the question of Tom Bradley, and specifically whether or not Penn State should give him the job. It is been my mind all along, with allegations against Sandusky being what they are, and given that it seemed to be an open secret among the Penn State administration, that there’s no way anyone with a Penn State connection should get the head coaching job (including Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano). While there is no precedent for the NCAA acting in this incident, the governing body will investigate, and Penn State should learn from USC: make sure you fire everyone who was involved in the cover-up, or the institution will be screwed. Ohio State followed that model, fired Jim Tressell, and got a penalty that was less severe than USC. Yes, Penn State did fire Paterno and the university president, but I wouldn’t take any chances, especially given how close Bradley and Sandusky were.

Given the lack of precedent in the case, it is hard to say how the NCAA would punish Penn State, if they indeed deem it necessary to do so (another subject for another post). What I am saying is that, given Penn State’s keep-in-the-family approach, the best thing to do would be to start over, even they have to a has-been like Tommy Bowden. Get someone respectable, and show everyone you’re moving on. Again, civil suits are likely around the corner

And if Bradley unearths more dirt on the university? Penn State already looks like a mess, they should just let Bradley go and say whatever he has to say, and issue public apologies when he does. Giving Bradley, a yes-man career assistant, the head coaching job could sink the program even worse in the long run. Don’t think that Paterno made Bradley his defensive coordinator for a reason: Paterno was turning seventy-four when he promoted Bradley, and he must have known, that, to continue to hold on to his position for many more years, he would have to surround himself with people who would do his bidding without question. Don’t let him blackmail you into the head coaching job, Penn State.

Although, there would be some merit in keeping Bradley. If the best Penn State can do is David Cutcliffe, fired from one job and now not winning at Duke, Bradley at best could be Bill Guthridge at North Carolina, who gave the Tar Heels three pretty good years before heading off into the sunset. With the uncertainty in the administration, Bradley might be the best man, at least until the Big 10 and the NCAA have finished their investigation, and a new president and athletic director are firmly in place. At least he wouldn’t embarrass the program…unless he knew about Sandusky.

But ultimately, what Penn State needs to do is get ride of all of the current staff, and move on to a new coach, showing that the keep-it-in-the-family culture is gone. They already look pretty backward, in the most drawn-out coaching search since Steve Pedersen’s Nebraska debacle in 2003.

Rushing to Judgment: Why the Grand Jury Report is Enough to Sink Sandusky

This post as a result of a twitter exchange I had with @EndofanError12, a user who I assume is a Penn State fan. This individual read my blog posts about Joe Paterno and state his/her strong disagreement with what I said. This user said that we needed to “wait for the facts” and informed that grand jury testimony was without cross examination or defense statements. While this is likely a minority opinion that pertains mostly to fans of the Penn State program, it did get me thinking, and I want to address this.

To acknowledge the point, yes, grand jury testimony is mere statements, without the defense’s perspective. It is entirely possible that Jerry Sandusky will be able to present evidence at his trial that the information in the grand jury report is inconsistent and not conclusive enough to convict him on any counts. For example, the defense will likely point out that Mike McQueary has made conflicting statements about the incident he witnessed in the shower (the e-mails that McQueary sent out which said he broke up the incident in the shower, information he previously did not reveal). That’s how defense lawyer work in a case like this-they try to shed doubt on an event by showing how it has been recounted differently by a witness.

But to main concern of the person who tweeted at me: that people have rushed to judgment on this case based on a grand jury report, not on a trial and/or conviction. My answer to that is this: while a grand jury report is not conclusive, I can show how strong a prosecutor’s case is. I have read most of it, and, while trying to skim some of the more graphic parts, the very minimum objective conclusion that one can come to is that Jerry Sandusky was in several suggestive situations with young boys. It is very disturbing to say the least. Twice Sandusky was witnessed in the showers with a boy (the McQueary incident and the one a janitor witnessed), he was caught in another questionable incident “wrestling” incident, and there was another incident that was reported second hand to university police. If that doesn’t at least Sandusky has some sort of problem, I don’t know what does. In addition to the report, Sandusky admitted in his interview with Bob Costas that he did shower with children, which, in and of itself, was a compromising position for him to be in, irregardless of what he did or did not do.

Also, there are a total of eight victims in the report. Eight victims is pretty conclusive, and more victims are coming forward. ESPN didn’t want to run the sexual abuse story about Syracuse assistant coach Bernie Fine when there was only one known victim; once there were two victims, they ran it. Again, we have eight here, so that doesn’t look good.

To demonstrate how we can accurately draw conclusion from this grand jury, let me make a comparison to case in the non-fiction book A Civil Action, and the movie that followed it. In both the book and film, the lawyer for the defendant, Jerome Thatcher (played by Robert Duvall in the film), knew immediately when he heard the plaintiff’s testimony in their pre-trial discovery that they had a very strong case and that he might have to settle the case. Discovery in a law suit is very much like a grand jury: witness have answer all questions asked, there is no cross, and objections are noted in the record until they can be ruled on by the judge. The testimony can be one-sided, but just because it is one-sided doesn’t mean that it isn’t valued or meaningful. Again consider: the facts are, there are eight victims, three indepent witnesses, and one other second hand report to police. That is grave evidence.

Now, Sandusky, like O.J. Simpson before him, can hire an excellent defense attorney, and that may get him off. But even if he were to be acquitted, it would be because there was a lope hole in the prosecution’s case. Remember, the prosecutor has the burden proof; if the defense can cause the tiniest shadow of doubt on that, Sandusky could go free. Of course, he’ll likely still have to pay off his victims in civil suits.

Also, if you think the prosecutor is just gunning for publicity, consider this: in the Duke lacrosse case, a prosecutor got disbarred because he ran to file charges against in what would undoubtedly be a high profile case. Sexual assault or abuse charges ruin a persons life, whether the accused is found guilty or not. I think we can be pretty sure that the prosecutor who filed this case were dead sure that it was solid if it was going to involve a popular university like Penn State and stain the legacy of Joe Paterno.

Boeheim’s PTI Gripping: College Basketball getting dragged along in Conference

Earlier this year, Jim Boeheim interviewed on PTI, wasting a Five Good Minutes segment during football season to express his mild dissent on Syracuse’s move from the Big East to the ACC. This is not the first that PTI has allowed Boeheim to go on a personal crusade in their interview segment: a few years ago when Syracuse was one of the last teams to left out of the NCAA tournament, Boeheim was allowed on the post-selction Monday to whrine about his team missing out on a thirteen seed. All those Syracuse connections at ESPN sure pay off, don’t they? So Boeheim went on ESPN’s most visible platform and whined about football and money driving the college athleic bus, loosing rivals like Georgetown and St. John, and how he’s only okay with Syracuse’s leaving the Big East because they are going to a basketball-first conference.

This is the attitude of college basketball, or at least some of it: let’s just begrudgingly go along with conference realignment because we have to. It is a network of good ‘ole boys, where even Bob Knight, whose boorish behavior got him fired at the school where he was a legend, could still get an under-the-radar, major conference job at Texas Tech. And every Friday after NCAA selections, the coaches of the last five teams out blame the selection committee for changing this criteria or that criteria. Meanwhile, you never hear a peep of college football teams who go .500 and don’t get invited to bowls. Even current Miami football coach Al Golden didn’t make a scene when his 8-4 Temple Owls didn’t get a bowl invite last year

But back to college basketball: Bill Self and Jim Boeheim both have the same point of view, and to a degree, it’s valid: they don’t like being the top athletic figure at their respective schools and then being dragged into conferences in moves that aren’t driven by their sport. But this is the way college athletics are these days: football schools and basketball schools aren’t equal. And while Boeheim acknowledges that the moves are about “football and money”, he doesn’t go into how an unsuccessful football program can burden an athletic department. If an athletic department has a bad basketball program, no one cares because it’s not a financial drain. But a bad football program is, and even a successful basketball coach like Boeheim can’t make that difference up.

In many ways, Boeheim’s like a guy who works at a farm seed company and sells forages. No matter how much alfalfa and red clover he sells, he’s never going to make as much as the guy who sells money-making crops like corn or soybeans, and thus he won’t be as influential in the future direction of the company. Is that the best thing? Perhaps not, but it is what it is. At least Boeheim was able to go to a conference that cares about basketball first, and he should learn something from the ACC’s approach: it is a basketball conference whose leadership told its members they had to care about football. The ACC added Florida State into the ACC in the early ninet. John Feinstein wrote in book A March to Madness that all of the basketball coaches in ACC questioned why the league needed Florida State, even though privately they knew why. Because the ACC continued to care about football, they now have a lucrative football championship game, a secure TV contract, and most importantly, a $20 million exit fee. Hence, secure future.

And as a Nebraska fan though, I should thank Boeheim for not encouraging Syracuse to seek membership in the Big 10. With Syracuse’s position in New York, ties to Penn State as a rival and to ESPN, they could have been a more enticing fit for the Big 10 if Boeheim had pushed for it. Indeed, Syracuse was the leaked list of five teams that the Big 10 originally wanted for a sixteen team conference, and I wonder how Tom Izzo, Thad Matta, and Bo Ryan would feel if Jim Boeheim came out and said point blank that he didn’t feel Big 10 basketball was up to Syracuse’s standard.

In the final assessment, I do feel bad for college basketball in some regards. Conference realignment is solely football-driven, and it may not be the best thing for major universities and conferences to have all their eggs in one sports basket (see the Big East). But ultimately, football has to drive now the bus because of its cost, and no matter how great Jim Boeheim has been for Syracuse, he can’t be the one making the decision of which conference Syracuse plays in., something he openly admits.  And when that decision is made, I would look better if he came out more fully supportive in the way his university is going because it will be around long after he’s gone.

Thoughts on Paterno’s firing: the Divide between Paterno and Penn State, and the Firing

To really understand the firing of Joe Paterno, we have to see it as a story of a man and a small town. As I noted before, there were a lot of similarities with Brett Farve’s coming out of retirement and leaving Green Bay. In both situations, it is the story of an iconic figure, and in Paterno’s case, the figure who was multi-generational pillar of the community, who got his community and himself engulfed in something that was much bigger than either party knew how to deal with.

The grand jury report indicting Jerry Sandusky came out on November 5, but remained a back burner issue for at least couple of days as college football played its yearly “game of the century” between LSU and Alabama. Then the news cycle began, and as people began to dig into the report, they found it startingly. Former Penn State assistant Jerry Sandusky abused under aged boys, witnessed twice. One witness was Mike McQueary, a former grad assistant and currently a full-time Penn State assistant, was one of the witnesses of a 2002 incident. And McQueary then went and told Joe Paterno.

The shock was palpable: sex scandal at a major college football program, which Joe Paterno knew about and only passed up to a superior? The national media was not quick to call for Paterno’s job, and instead began to make a trek to Penn State to question Paterno about the incident at his Tuesday press conference. Upon seeing the number of national media that would be there, Penn State got defensive, at first telling the media that question would have to be restricted to the week’s game against Nebraska, and then canceled Paterno’s press conference altogether when the national reporters weren’t going to play by their rules. This already speaks to a divide between Penn State and Paterno; when the university knew that Paterno would go out and get grilled by the big dogs, they choose to keep him in hiding. It was after all, the keep-in-the-family culture Paterno had built at Penn State. And of course they were also keeping Paterno from hanging them out to dry.

Paterno, however, took a different line. He came out to talk to the reporters on his front lawn that evening, telling them that he did indeed want to address the charges, but he would have to do it at a later time. Paterno’s modest, accessible house also allowed a group of protesting students to rally on his front lawn, and he of course did what the university must have been dreading: he went out on his lawn, told the students they should say a prayer for the victims, and then lead the students into cries of “We Are Penn State!” But Paterno’s arrogance over the school was heightened the next morning, when, now realizing there was no way he could leave on his own terms, he told the Penn State Board of trustees in a statement (not released by the university) he would retire at the end of the season and that they “should not spend a single minute discussing my status.” Once again, he was the old man in charge, not letting anyone tell him what to do.

In all the coverage of Paterno’s eventually firing, a clip that sticks out in my mind is one of a 2002 interview with Paterno, who at the time was in the middle of four loosing seasons in five years. In it, Paterno said, “I’m not going to retire when everyone wants me to retire, I’m going to retire when I think it’s best for Penn State.” In that moment, I saw a wicked twinkle in Paterno’s eyes; so many times since Paterno turned seventy, the media kept portraying him as a jolly, quirky old grandfather, but in this moment, I saw something different: self-reverence. I am greater than Penn State. I am Penn State, and no one else tells me what to do.

This is the moment where the adults had to step in. No man can say what universally best for other men. The board finally had to stop hiding behind the excuse that Paterno had the right to retire on his own terms because he’d forsaken his right to protect the university.

 

One of the great things I’ve found about twitter is that it gives you slivers of insight into how the public reacts to major events as they happened. I love to follow my twitter feed during Husker games on a typical Saturday, and again on a NFL Sunday. Searching for a team on twitter really gives you insight into how a people think. Ohio State’s fans, for example, can be foolishly preoccupied with a Michigan loss than with their own team’s poor performance. And one of the more revealing parts where twitter gave me some context was at the press conference where Joe Paterno’s dismissal was announced, as the reporters in the room were instantly mocked in the digital realm for their fan-like reaction to Paterno’s firing.

To be fair, there were some Penn State students in that room, and we can’t expect rational reactions from them. They’re students. But the shock from the news media in the room is inexcusable. First of all, it had already been tweeted out that Paterno was fired roughly fifteen minutes before the announcement. Maybe a tweet isn’t an official report, but it should give you a heads up. People have already been talking about this, and now the Board of Trustees has called a meeting at 10:00 at night, meaning this news can’t wait until morning. There’s a good chance Paterno’s getting canned here.

Secondly, you are the media. I understand that you are human and emotional, but still, fans are going to look to you and in some sense, you influence their reaction. You have to be journalist and ask responsible questions, not be accusatory and ask the Board if they just fired Paterno because they’ve had it in for him since 2004.

But as for the Board, they did what they had to do. They were paying the price for allowing Paterno to dominate them way past his retirement age, and now that the university was in crisis. Penn State simply couldn’t let Joe Paterno, the clear enabler of child molester Jerry Sandusky to walk onto their field, into what would undoubtedly turn into a pep rally for his final home game, further humiliating the university and hurting the victims of Sandusky.

Granted, the Board of Trustees probably owed Paterno more than sending a messenger to his house with a number for him to call so they could tell him he was fired. Personally, I believed that all long term relationships need to be ended in person and not over the phone (or text message or e-mail for that matter). Although in the case of Paterno, the university president had come to Paterno’s house to try to talk him politely into retirement and was unceremoniously kicked out. For someone who hung on as long as Paterno, he really doesn’t have any right to complain about being fired over the phone.

The rallying and rioting around Penn State that night could have been expected, but in this instance, there was an added layer of insensitive. These people were out in force because a man who used his position to allow child sexual abuse to happen. Yes, Paterno is only face of Penn State football many of these kids’ parents have know, but what must the victims of abuse be thinking when they are watching this?

 

So that was the end for Joe Paterno. In an insightful saying, Todd Blackledge, quarterback for Paterno’s 1982 National Title team, said in an interview that he often felt that the longer Paterno continued to coach, the worse the end of his coaching career would be, although I doubt that even Blackledge thought that Paterno was guilty of enabling a child molester. The ultimately irony of the situation was that, in the first game after Paterno was gone as Penn State’s head coach, the Nittany Lions played an old rival, Nebraska, a school whose legendary head coach followed a course to retirement that was completely the opposite of Paterno’s.

Tom Osborne retired from coaching twenty-five season at age sixty; Paterno coached twenty-four seasons after he turned sixty. Osborne left at the top of his profession, winning sixty games in his final five season, while Paterno hadn’t had an undefeated season in seventeen years; 1994, the first of Osborne’s three national titles. And Osborne went out and did what Paterno possibly feared doing: find meaning and significance outside of football. In fact, Osborne has now held two jobs as high profile as his coaching job: he spent three years as a member of the House of Representatives, and then returned to Nebraska as Athletic Director, now overseeing the many building projects for football, basketball, and the prominent volleyball. I remember a quote from Paterno when Osborne retired in 1997, where Paterno speculated that between himself, Bobby Bowden, and Tom Osborne, Osborne would be the last to retire. In a sense, he was right.

Joe Paterno’s fall, part 1: General thoughts, and Implications for the Church

I listen to ESPN radio on a daily basis, and since the Brett Farve-come-back-from-retirement story in 2008, there hasn’t been a story that gripped me to the radio then the Joe Paterno-Penn State sex abuse scandal. Interestingly enough, both situations featured the rending of an small town’s athletic program’s icon, although the situation at Penn State involves a far greater charge of sexual abuse against children. This tragic story has a couple of different angles, and it’s probably going to take me more than one blog post. So in this first post, I’m going to lay out my initial thoughts and turn my attention to how some conservative religions writers have touched on this issue, and how they could go deeper.

First of all, what happened behind the curtain at Penn State where retired assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was abusing young boys is a tragedy, and the only thing that is a greater tragedy is that Joe Paterno allowed it to go on. It is repeated that Paterno did met his legal obligation to tell his superiors about the incident, but really, Joe Paterno has no superior at Penn State. He should be the one facing perjury and obstruction of justice charges; the athletic director and university president happen to be the fall guys for Paterno. Paterno, in a sense, could have been blinded by generational biases, as domestic and child abuse were thought by his fathers to be matters that should be handled in the family. While that doesn’t excuse Paterno in any way for reporting the abuse or not confronting Sandusky, it does explain why he let the abuse go on for so long and allowed it to go unnoticed.

All this points to the fact that the gutless, Paterno-worshiping sports media won’t say: Paterno should have retired years ago. In an age where the responsibilities of a coach had grown enormously and coaches literally work themselves to death, a program can’t have an eighty year-old coach who doesn’t fully understand the seriousness of sexual abuse allegations. Granted, many of the abuse allegations happened before the 2004 incident where Paterno kicked the university president and athletic director out of his home when they even suggested he retire (at age 78). But if Paterno had retired in 1992 when he was 66, he would have coached for twenty-six seasons, more than a full coaching career. This was the danger of giving one man too much power was that, ultimately, he would abuse it, and it would hurt the university in the long run.

The national media is remarkably soft when it comes to Paterno. I remember an episode of Around the Horn from early 2007, when the topic of Joe Paterno coaching in the press box came up. The host Tony Reali, a young man of about thirty, set up the question for all of the reporters to come out and say that Joe Paterno should just retire if he was going to coach from the press box, but each one of the older columnists said that Paterno coaching in the press box was a great idea, and could even help Penn State. At the end of the debate, Reali was struck by the almost unanimous praise for Paterno’s flaying attempt to be Penn State’s coach.

Throughout the coverage of Paterno’s firing, members of the media struggled to separate their own emotions from Paterno. Whether it be longtime newspaper columnists or former Paterno players turned analysts such as Matt Millen and Todd Blackledge, the media seemed lost in the memories of the Paterno they knew and loved. Joe Pa was the last great coach of generation, and for him to be forced into is unfortunate, even if it had to happen. Truly, Paterno did a lot of good for college football, the university he served, and the players he coached, and all that will be remembered. But the stain of Paterno’s blind eye on Sandusky’s crimes will stick to resume forever.

The religious and conservative media were drawn to this story for obvious reasons. Paterno’s attitude for keeping the scandal in house unfortunately mirrors that of the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal very closely. The large consensus I’ve noted among the aforementioned media, is first, is that it seems to be a chorus calling for immediate reports of any knowledge of sexual abuse. While that is a very important point in the consideration of this case, there is another strain of the Paterno story that churches should talk about because, as in the case of sex abuse scandal that hit close to me, it could be as common in such a cover-up in a church or in a small town.

I grew up in a large Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod parish that had a school, which, while I did not attend it, grew to a prominent feat of 400 students in a community of 6,000 people. It was a very well-respected school in our town, and our church body as a whole. The two senior teachers, the principal and the head art teacher, together with the parish music director, were jokingly referred to as the “holy trinity” around our congregations. While pastors came and went over the years, these people stayed in their positions. Nothing in the congregation and school happened without their say-so.

Then one year, about a month after the art teacher had retired, a former student came forward with a sexual abuse charges against both the school principal and the art teacher. Before a meeting to determine what would be done with the principal, he committed suicide. Other victims came forward, and then congregation was torn apart. Ten years later, the school’s enrollment is half of what it was before the scandal.

The one similarity between this scandal and the Penn State scandal was that in both instances, there were individuals who had too much power. In the case of Penn State, it was the enabler who had the power; in the case of the parish school, it was the abusers themselves.

The reason Paterno was able to cover up Sandusky’s abuse, was quite simply, he was able to. He won big at a major college football program, and accumulated the praise and adoration of the university’s community for it. But unlike his contemporary, Tom Osborne, who chose to retire at sixty and put his institution first, Paterno used his power to cling to his position long after he’d reached retirement age, and the reverence of Paterno left the university exposed to the scandal that befell it. The scandal stayed in the closet because that was where Paterno wanted it to stay, and no one dared to challenge him.

Like Penn State University, many churches themselves are small organizations, and for those in rural communities, the pastor of a church or priest of a parish is often the most educated individual in the community, and thus the most respected. The rural areas of the country are desperate for educated people as all the talented young people leave for jobs in the city, and the urban church is desperate for the educated, able pastor to lead reforms for the poor and underprivileged children and families. While the vast majority of such religious leaders are indeed people who are above reproach, that doesn’t mean that they should ever be exempt from any scrutiny; in fact, Moses tells the Israelites in Deuteronomy 13 that they should test the prophets who come. Paul even exhorts his student Timothy to be judicious in his selection of teachers and warns him of false prophets.

And also like a university community, churches are often very insular institutions. Now, there are many positives to this. In the case of the school, it can provide a place for children to grow up it. Churches can be places of study, drawing closer to God, and healing for life’s hardships. But just as easily as a church can be a safe place, the walls can be used to hide abuse and allegations, under the guise of protecting the institution. While the institution may be protected in the short term, it is only being built up for long-term damage, not to mention scarring the lives of children. And when the church is found to cover sexual abuse up, the ratifications are much greater than in any other organization, as well they should be. If you teach abstinence in a culture of sexual freedom, you will get scored if such abuse is brought to light.

In light of these things, churches need to emphasize things like the doctrine of the ministry. I don’t know much about other church bodies, but in my church, it is taught that Christ gave a specific ministry office to his apostles, an office that is greater than the apostles themselves. (Matthew 16:18-19; 28:18-20). This teaching has been used to comfort many people who received the sacrament from priests or pastors who were themselves living in sin or went on to quit the ministry. While obviously this teaching doesn’t excuse the behavior of a pedophile, it can comfort a congregation who needs to deal with such a person because getting rid of pastor X doesn’t destroy the office the church has had for 2,000 years and will continue to have long after any pastor they know is gone.

So there are my thoughts on Joe Paterno, and what the church should learn from his scandal. I have many more thoughts on Paterno, what the scandal says about small colleges and rural America, the media’s coverage of his dismal, and the riots afterward, but I will save it for another post.

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