Friday, November 11, 2011

The "Death Penalty" Awaits

This post will not be long because everyone already knows the horrid details out of Penn State University. The sheer criminality of the acts are outweighed by the incompetent reaction of the school's staff. And if it weren't incompetence that allowed these sexual assaults to continue for years, then it was blatant cover up in order to remain a successful (read: profitable) school.

I recall in the mid 1980's, living in Dallas at the outbreak of the Southern Methodist University scandal. In that case, SMU had been warned a number of times about serious violations occurring at the school. Even the-then Governor of Texas, Bill Clements, had his administration marred by the ongoing scandal - from which he was implicated, as well.

Because of the seriousness of the charges, the NCAA - which had threatened such action - imposed the "death penalty" upon the Mustang's football program. While SMU may appear to be some small, insignificant program, in it the 1980's - led by future NFL Hall of Hamer Eric Dickerson, as well as former New England Patriots running back Chris James - the Mustangs became a powerhouse in the now-defunct Southwestern Conference. In fact, in 1982, they won the conference with a 10-0-1 record, rated as high as #2 in the nation after defeating Dan Marino's Pittsburgh Panthers in the Cotton Bowl.

So SMU's decline was a stunning development - and a well deserved one as well. Of course, there were many people who felt that it was unfair to punish the entire program for the actions of just a few boosters, coaches and students. But the only way to ensure the rehabilitation of the program was to start over again.

The argument was made that football should not be a priority on campus while they have so much corruption that needs to be cleans away. It was painful - especially for those who recently joined the team. But for the most part, the student body, while discouraged and angry, moved on to the business of rebuilding SMU's reputation. It took almost 20 years for their football program to begin again. And now, after just 5 seasons, they have won a bowl game and have applied to join the Big 12 Conference. It's a great story of repentance and renewal.

In Happy Valley, we are seeing something far, far worse than recruiting violations. We are seeing sexual abuses to minors by a member of the football staff that has been going on since 1998. In addition, while certain officials did bring this story up the ladder, it either didn't make it to the top, or it was conveniently put aside. The only excuse for doing that was fear of the fallout, should they get caught.

Unfortunately, the pain from earlier fallout pales in comparison to the pain Penn State is suffering through today.

It would be very easy for me to blame Joe Paterno, Mike McQuearry or any other official who was told of the assault, but never followed through. In fact, as far as I'm concerned, JoPa may well have done nothing legally wrong. But as the head coach - an perhaps the most recognizable coach in all of college football, it falls on him to be on top of everything that happens within that program. You do not coach at one place for 60 years without being the main guy.

But aside from the coaches and other officials. What this scandal has done to Penn State is nothing short of disastrous. Every game played between the Nittany Lions and any opponent will be marred on television with respect to the charges. Players will be hounded relentlessly for soundbites from the media and the school will go from a place of education to a circus.

Like it happened to the innocent Mustang players before, Penn State must immediately shut down its football program. If they don't, it is very likely the NCAA will shut it down for them. At least if PSU goes first, they will begin to appreciate the errors in judgement and begin to mend their ways.

This is not something that can be excused by cancelling a game or two. The entire program must be gutted and given time to mourn. College football will survive - in fact, it will gain a greater respect for authority. And when PSU is able to put the past behind them, they should follow SMU's role and start off small.

It is the very least they could do for the 10 year old boys who did nothing but idolize Jerry Sandusky - all the way to the wall. No one is more vilified than a man who chooses to rape a young boy. The stench of this scandal will take years to dissipate. Keeping their football team active only serves a reminder of what is more important - life over football.

Penn State, do the right thing.

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