College football season is swinging into high gear, and across Pennsylvania and the nation, eyes will be on the Penn State team. Will the Jerry Sandusky scandal affect the players’ will to win?
This should not be the case. Neither today’s players nor those of the past had any involvement in the scandal and have done nothing wrong. As the Nittany Lions take the field, they should hold their heads high, and continue the proud heritage that is Penn State.
As the new season opens, one can’t help but reflect on the action taken by the National Collegiate Athletic Association in assessing penalties against the school.
First, let it be said that the NCAA board was under the gun, with a widespread clamor for it to do something to punish State and its supposedly fallen hero, former coach Joe Paterno.
Punish it did, but as so often happens, the blow fell upon the innocent rather than the guilty. Sandusky was gone, charged with his crimes. So were most of those who tried to cover up the scandal, ultimately making everything worse. Nearly 100 percent of those remaining had nothing to do with the abuses of children, but they are left holding the bag.
As it works out, the NCAA may abuse more young people than Sandusky did, but in a different way.
One of the NCAA actions was to reduce the number of athletic scholarships Penn State may award. This may affect the performance of Penn State teams to some amount, but it had a greater and sadder effect on the young people whose only hope of a college education was an athletic scholarship, something they had worked hard for throughout high school.
You can say the truly talented can find other colleges that would want them and grant them scholarships, but those schools also have limits. What they give to potential players who would have gone to Penn State means some other young person is cut out of a scholarship.
And what about the whopping big fine assessed against Penn State. It has been said it will not be paid out of tuition money, and that may be true, but eventually it could and probably will affect present and future students. Any money drain, including possible payments to Sandusky’s victims, will have an adverse effect on university finances.
This could result in future tuition hikes.
Then there is the matter of going back for more than a decade and wiping out all of Penn State’s football victories.
This is revisionism at its worse and sets a horrible example for those who are interested in truth. It is saying white is black, that history can be changed and rewritten to suit the fancy of somebody who doesn’t like the truth.
We would hope that truth is what education should be all about, whether that always is the case or not. We would hope that the quest of every college student is to learn truth and how to find it. The NCAA sets a terrible example.
It may be, though, the idea was to punish the late Joe Paterno, whether he deserved it or not. To a greater extent, the NCAA is punishing all the young men who performed so well in all those games and all those seasons, young men who had nothing to do with the Sandusky scandal.
Look at truth. Penn State won those games, fair and square. The teams they defeated knew they were beaten. The stroke of a pen cannot change that, no more than it can change any of the other unpleasant events of history.
In athletics, we talk about fair play, sportsmanship and honor. The NCAA edict for Penn State contains none of that. It seeks to punish the innocent because it no longer has any control over the guilty.
We can understand the pressure that was on NCAA board members when they made their decision. They felt they had to do “something.”
Unfortunately, they did the wrong thing.
Now we come to Paterno and the attempt to punish him. It is acknowledged that he passed on the report of Sandusky’s wrong doing.
Could he have done more?
Perhaps and perhaps not. It is thought that as head coach, he could have rebuked Sandusky years ago. But is that a fact?
One thing we do know. Paterno was the winningest coach in the history of collegiate football. Anybody who says he wasn’t is speaking a lie.
No stroke of a pen, no revisionist NCAA board, can truthfully say otherwise. No other coach can claim the title and hold his head high.
In fact, there are those who believe that if the Paterno family would challenge the NCAA action in court, they would win.
Penn State takes the field this fall with a new coach and, hopefully, the old spirit of good sportsmanship and all-out effort. Win or lose, they should not be affected by anything divisive.
Bill Jones is a retired senior writer for The Tribune-Democrat.