Aug 01, 2012 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
We heard Mark Emmert loud and clear last Monday when he and his fellow NCAA brass offered their brass-knuckles answer to the Penn State football crisis.
The strikes – five years probation, four years without a bowl, reduced scholarships, $60 million fine, 13 years of wins taken away from Joe Paterno – reflected the outrage everyone felt about Jerry Sandusky’s heinous acts and the Penn State power structure that looked the other way.
From what we’re told, the school had to accept those penalties, or face a four-year “death penalty”, as in no football, which would have amounted to four times the verdict handed down on SMU a quarter-century ago for its crimes and misdemeanors.
This allowed for yet another round of loud condemnations toward all those responsible. We heard it in November when the lurid details of the Sandusky crimes first emerged. We heard them again when former FBI director Louis Freeh’s report blistered Penn State’s leadership.
Over and over, the chorus was the same. Think of those victims, the lifelong scars they will carry with them, and most of all never, ever let football get too important again.
Essentially, Emmert repeated those thoughts when handing down the punishments. On the surface, those strong words carried a lot of resonance, because, after all, aren’t colleges and universities supposed to be about education first?
If only the hypocrisy didn’t bleed through.
To start with, if winning football games is not supposed to be as important as education and protecting the lives of the innocent, how come all of the penalties had to do with…..football? Especially the surrender of 14 years worth of victories, even though none of the players from 1998 to 2011 was ever ruled ineligible.
It sure seems like the primary goal was to make darn sure Penn State didn’t win in the future. Never mind if the school absorbed the painful lessons and tried to make something good out of it, in their community and beyond. That, to the NCAA, wasn’t as important.
All through this saga, fans from other parts of the nation, put off by Paterno’s holier-than-thou attitude and the idolatry it spawned at Penn State and beyond, have taken no small glee in the sudden downfall.
Of course, no one’s going to tell them to get their priorities straight. As Penn State reeled, the big power conferences held their Media Days at swank hotels with hundreds of media and fans present and hanging on every word.
This was especially true at the SEC soiree, where hundreds of Alabama fans showed up just to get a fleeting glimpse of Nick Saban walking to his press conference. They already have a statue of Saban outside Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, even though the city is still recovering from a devastating tornado in April 2011.
Will the same folks that railed long and loud against Penn State, post-Sandusky, offer the same kind of sustained chorus against the SEC crowd? It’s doubtful. If actual crimes are involved, then education comes first. Otherwise, it’s the same old song and dance.
A worse kind of hypocrisy emanates from the college presidents themselves. While they offer homilies about placing grades ahead of the gridiron, they also have lorded over wholesale conference shifts and expansions entirely based on the pursuit of more and more dollars, without uttering a peep of protest.
And when, in a couple of years’ time, college football finally gets to its four-team playoff, and the TV bidding wars might prove as intense as any seen for any recent sports property, will we hear Mark Emmert and his merry men utter the same platitudes about a misplaced emphasis on football ahead of education? Again, it’s doubtful.
This leads back to the critical question of what Penn State ought to do now. Some think that the school can only redeem itself by distancing from football, for that’s where all the evil took place.
What strikes me, though, is what Penn State alumni have said. From all that I’ve read and heard, they are humiliated, embarrassed, ashamed and disgusted at their alma mater. They’ve said that any mention of Penn State draws stares and criticism, as if they were criminals. For them, the shame will not go away for a long time, even if they did nothing wrong.
So yes, Penn State should not put the emphasis on football than it did before. But neither should anyone else. Then the words of Mark Emmert, and the punishment the NCAA handed out, will have some actual meaning, rather than end up as hollow rhetoric.