Monday, July 23, 2012

Not-tany Lions Declawed

Not-tany Lions Declawed
Commentary by Sanford D. Horn
July 23, 2012

On the day following the dismantling of the statue of Joe Paterno on the campus of Penn State University the rest of the football program has rightfully suffered a more deeply impacting disabling.

Both the stripping of the campus of the statue of the iconic coach, six months to the day of his death, January 22, and the punishment thrust upon the university were appropriate and overdue. The objections by students on campus at the removal of the statue of Paterno, who coached at Penn State from 1966-2011, is demonstrative of how the culture of sports and hero-worship has far superseded what is right, proper and moral and perhaps indicative of how the NCAA did not go far enough in its punitive actions against the school.

The university, and the football team specifically, have been sanctioned by the NCAA for its complicity in the child abuse sex scandal that rocked the Happy Valley campus to its core last fall. This scandal saw former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky convicted of abusing 10 boys. The true number of young boys molested, violated and/or abused may never be known, and while the lost innocence of those boys can never be replaced, the sanctions against Penn State are a good start. Hopefully, the severity of the punitive actions, while not deep enough, will deliver a message across the nation’s campuses that humanity and morality will trump sports and the protection of so-called heroes at the risk and potential loss of children’s innocence.

Sandusky deserves nothing less than to pay for his vicious crimes with the ultimate penalty – his life. Yes, the death penalty is most appropriate for the perverse and unconscionable crimes of robbing young, impressionable children of their trust, protection and innocence – irrevocably altering their lives. Yet, the sanctions imposed upon Penn State have nothing to do with the ongoing criminal investigations, said Mark Emmert, NCAA president.

Sandusky may be the lowest of the low, but the cover up is just as much a part of this whole sordid tale – just ask the ghost of Richard M. Nixon. As such, the assistant coaches and Paterno are just as complicit, and the university obviously agreed, firing the coach proven to have feet of clay on November 9, 2011, along with relieving Graham Spanier of his duties as university president.

The current regime must now cope with the loss of $60 million – the financial penalty equivalent to one year of football’s gross receipts. The $60 million is to be paid out at $12 million increments over the next five years into an endowment to benefit victims of child sex abuse. This money cannot come at the expense of non-revenue sports or the student-athlete scholarships, yet, while academic sources were not ruled out, Emmert said such a plan would be inappropriate.

Ultimately, I fear a large chunk of this fine will come from the coffers of the taxpayers of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, which would be wholly unacceptable.

While not sanctioned with the so-called Death Penalty, the punishment imposed upon Southern Methodist University (SMU) in 1987 for paying players thousands of dollars, the penalties facing Penn State will certainly hamstring the football program for many years to come – presumably long after the penalty phase expires.

“We did not feel the suspension of play would be appropriate,” said Dr. Edward Bay, NCAA Executive Committee Chair and President of Oregon State University.

Such a punishment would send an eye-opening message that this scandal is bigger than the tarnished reputation of Joe Paterno, bigger than football, bigger than sports and certainly bigger than the demands of the fans, boosters and alumni. The need for a cultural change is vital, in spite of the unintended harm that would come from the secession of play for one season.

Clearly arguments can be made on both sides of the death penalty coin. The revenue lost to the university for the six home games, the exposure given to the band and cheerleaders, as well as the income lost to the vendors is at stake. The university would need to pay the schools of the six road games for lost revenue.

But the bigger picture is that the institution of football is not too big to fail; that the culture of sports is not too big to fail. These are tragic circumstances which require harsh and immediate meaningful actions.

For the next four years, 2013-17, Penn State is banned from participating in bowl or other post-season games, including the Big Ten conference championship. As for the conference title game, the university will forfeit about $13 million over the same four year period, also to be donated.

Additionally, the Penn State football program has been sacked in the scholarship department on two levels. The NCAA has limited new annual scholarships from 25 a year down to 15 for each of the next four years in addition to limiting the number of total scholarship players each of the same four years to 65, down from 85.

Clearly this will impact recruitment on top of the post-season ban. Major high school recruits will want to play where they have an opportunity to appear in a bowl or other post-season games. They will likely seek to avail their skills to other programs. On the other hand, Penn State head coach Bill O’ Brien must sell his program to players who might not have the opportunity to earn serious playing time at another major institution.

As for the current squad of Penn State football players, they will be allowed to transfer without the traditional penalty of yielding one year of their eligibility. Should players decide to remain at Penn State and not continue to play football, the university is required to honor the scholarships of those players. And those scholarships would count toward the 65 permitted for that season.

Penn State will also be placed on five years probation during which time it is expected to work with an academic integrity monitor, an independent, third-party to report on Penn State’s progress, at a cost to be absorbed by the university. This is designed to elucidate the university to embrace values appropriate for an institution of higher education complete with the virtues of fair play on the field, positive moral values off the field and a place where children can be nurtured, protected and educated.

This is a “horrifically egregious situation,” said Emmert. “No one feels good about this. This is an unprecedented, painful chapter in the history of intercollegiate athletics.”

“We hope we are never here again,” said Bay.

Former NCAA and NFL coach Lou Holtz predicted “serious fan drop offs” from the more than 100,000 fans per home game to around 50,000.

One additional penalty, with which I found objectionable, but understand the reasoning behind it, is that all wins earned by Penn State and Paterno from 1998 through 2011 will be vacated. The year 1998 was selected as it represents the first reporting of abuse and the failure of Paterno and the university to act appropriately. For the record, 112 wins will be forfeited, all but one under Paterno’s name, dropping him from the winningest Division I coach  down to fifth place with 298 wins behind Bobby Bowden (377), Bear Bryant (323), Pop Warner (319), and Amos Alonzo Stagg (314).

While I understand removing Paterno from the top of that elite list, it also punishes the hundreds of players who presumably had nothing to do with the sex abuse scandal. It offers the implication of on-field cheating by otherwise honest football players. The wins earned by those players on the field should stand.

Make no mistake; I am not defending Paterno, by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, my animus toward Penn State far pre-dates this sex abuse scandal. As any University of Maryland alumnus can site, there is a bad history on the gridiron between the two schools – with Penn State leading Maryland in the all-time series 35 wins, one loss and one tie. Maryland’s lone victory occurred in 1961 and the Terrapins have not won since.

And while I am a tremendous sports fan, I have placed this monstrous scandal in its proper place and perspective. The Pennsylvania State University must suffer the consequences of the actions of its employees. The sanctions will undoubtedly prove deleterious to the football program, but hopefully the message will be received around the nation’s campuses that immoral, lascivious behavior, including, but not limited to, the molestation of children will never again be tolerated or covered up.

Paterno was not G-d and football is not a religion. Amen.

Sanford D. Horn is a writer and educator living in Westfield, IN. He is an alumnus of the University of Maryland and a member of its Terrapin Club, supporting the scholarship program for athletes.

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