One More on Penn State

The Freeh Report is in and I'm not going to waste a lot of space rehashing it's findings about the sick cabal of self-centered hypocrites that ran Penn State. I'm going to switch gears and address the question of what comes next.

The formal response to this scandal has to serve two purposes: it has to be punitive and corrective.

I think the punitive actions will largely be handled by the court system. People will go to jail. The university (and Second Mile) will face massive lawsuits, as will several of the people involved. What jail time and money can't extract, the media will. Joe Paterno's legacy is now literally one of the worst in college football history, and deservedly so. 

The corrective actions will come from a far broader range of interested parties. The primary one is the university itself. Relying on the findings of the Freeh Commission, the university (and the Board of Trustees) have to implement meaningful reform that force the athletic department into a subordinate positon to the university and which keep the Board of Trustees both informed about and responsible for the actions of the university. The Freeh Commission has a long list of measures, and I'm sure that will form the basis of Penn State's plan.

I would also not be surprised if the state government gets involved. Penn State holds a somewhat unusual position as a 'state related' school and not technically a public school, a designation which gives them greater autonomy than a typical public school. It would not surprise me to see the state government revisit what exactly that desgination means and how much autonomy Penn State can be trusted with.

Between the administration of the Freeh Commission, the university, the Board of Trustees and the state government, you have to hope they can work out the long term measures needed at Penn State. But that still leaves the athletic department.

The structure of the athletic department is an area that I believe does belong under the purview of the NCAA. They should be involved. They should not be involved with the intent of delivering punitive measures, but with the intent of overseeing and/or staying informed about the measures Penn State is taking to reform itself.

What I would like to see the NCAA do is officially find Lack of Institutional Control at Penn State, in order to guarantee themselves a seat at the table as Penn State is discussing the reform of their athletic department. And then, having gotten a seat, listen. Let Penn State determine their own course. If it's appropriate, accept it. If it's not, guide them in the right direction. If they are combative or unwilling, then the NCAA can step in and use their authority to require changes. But absolutely start by issuing that ruling that says Penn State lacked institutional control. It's unavoidable. To not issue that finding would be hard to explain and would set a negative precedent.

And when we talk about the changes that are needed, the obvious reform, one that is hard to define with rules and regulation, is simply that the football program and football coach cannot ever be given more authority than their role requires. Joe Paterno was given more. He used his reputation as "more than just a football coach" to acquire powers beyond that of a football coach: he was practically allowed to exempt his players from discipline from the Office of Student Affairs, he was allowed to hand pick an athletic director (a former player) who would rubber stamp his decisions and he was never questioned, even by those whose job it was to exercise authority over him. That can't be allowed again.

But there are two more areas that I think the NCAA needs to step into:

It needs to make sure that Penn State does not go back to glorifying Joe Paterno as soon as the media's attention is elsewhere. It will be a bitter pill for Penn State to swallow, but Penn State should be asked to (partially) disassociate themselves from the legacy of Joe Paterno, the way other programs have been asked to disassociate from their wrong-doers. You cannot erase him from the record books, but the NCAA should tell Penn State that they cannot exalt him either. They cannot name buildings or auditoria after him. They cannot put up murals or grand displays of his achievements. In the context of a display about the 1986 national title, of course he plays his part. But there should never be, on the campus of Penn State, a tribute to The Grand Experiment or a Hall of Fame exhibit glorifying Paterno's legacy.

Additionally, the NCAA needs to look into the relationship between the football program and The Second Mile, as well as other similar arrangements. What looked once like a charitable organization that Penn State supported as part of The Grand Experiment takes on a lot of other characteristics once you read the Freeh Report and other investigate reports. Financial dealings abounded between high rankings PSU officials (such as Joe Paterno) and board members of The Second Mile. When Jerry Sandusky retired (after allegations of misconduct were known to Paterno, Curley and Spanier) Penn State agreed to collaborate with Sandusy on "community outreach programs, such as Second Mile, and other programs which provide positive visibility to the University's Intercolleagiate Athletics Program".

The culture of football at Penn State was unique, and for a long time that was praised. That was Joe Paterno's legacy. That was The Grand Experiment. As we discover the ways in which that unique culture led to the scandal that brought down the program, everyone involved needs to examine that culture, and make sure that Penn State is not rebuilt as a replica of the program that was torn down.

Posted: Saturday - July 14, 2012 at 12:38 PM