The Ineligible Bowl

This afternoon — at the weird starting time of 5:30 — the Ohio State Buckeyes play the Penn State Nittany Lions at Happy Valley.  Both of the traditional powers are undefeated in the Big Ten.

Normally the game would be a big deal nationally, but not this year.  Both teams are ineligible for the Big Ten championship game and bowl games.  Ohio State is on probation for one year due to NCAA violations.  For Penn State, post-season is off limits long term due to its awful institutional breakdowns in connection with the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

For the players, that just means that today’s game is a bigger deal than it would be otherwise.  If you’re Penn State, the best way to keep your program going during your prolonged period of ineligibility is to beat teams like Ohio State that will be competing with you out on the recruiting trail.  If you’re Ohio State, you just want to try to run the table and win every game and preserve bragging rights.  Neither team has the chance to end the season with a high note in a bowl game, so the regular season really counts.

How do these teams match up?  That’s hard to say, because it’s becoming increasingly clear that this year’s Big Ten, top to bottom, is as weak as it has been in a very long time.  Ohio State has won impressively and in squeakers.  In some games its defense has played well and the offense has struggled, and in others its offense has been unstoppable and its defense has been a cheesecloth curtain.  The Buckeyes have won, sure, but it doesn’t seem that any of the wins really say a lot about the quality of the team.  Penn State, on the other hand, began the season with two losses as its offense struggled, but since then it has found a way to score and its defense has been solid.

I think you have to give the edge to Penn State in this game if Braxton Miller is sidelined after being knocked out of last week’s game.  Happy Valley is an intimidating venue under any circumstances, but this year the fans will be particularly pumped for the game.  As well as replacement QB Kenny Guiton played in leading the Buckeyes to a miracle win against Purdue, Miller gives OSU a big play threat  it doesn’t have otherwise.  It’s hard to see Ohio State grinding out a lot of points against a stout Penn State defense.  Penn State’s offense is led by senior quarterback Matt McGloin, who has played well after a shaky start, throwing for 14 TDs and good yardage and avoiding turnovers.  To win, Ohio State will need to bottle up McGloin, force some turnovers, and take advantage of every scoring opportunity that is presented.

Pennalty State

Today the NCAA announced the sanctions it is imposing on Penn State for its role in the Jerry Sandusky scandal.  The sanctions are extraordinary, but is the punishment appropriate to the extraordinary circumstances that surrounded the Sandusky scandal?

For starters, Penn State will have to pay a $60 million fine — representing one year of revenue from its football program — to external programs aimed at preventing child sexual abuse or helping the victims of such abuse.  The NCAA also barred Penn State’s football program from bowl games for five years, cut Penn State’s available scholarships for four years, and vacated all of Penn State’s many football wins since 1998.  The latter penalty means that Joe Paterno will not be officially recognized as the winningest coach in college football history.

The NCAA’s response to the Penn State situation is unprecedented, because the Penn State situation was unprecedented.  This wasn’t the normal NCAA investigative scenario, where players or coaches violated rules about getting money, or selling merchandise, or making too many recruiting visits.  Penn State’s issue didn’t involve cheating, or doing whatever it took to put a winning team on the field.  Instead, Penn State’s problem was deeper and more insidious.  The many problems highlighted in the Freeh report reflect an institution, an athletic department, and a football program that was protecting its own, and thereby protecting its reputation, even at the expense of overlooking horrendous criminal misconduct involving children.  I’m not sure that any sanctions the NCAA could impose could truly deal appropriately with what happened at Penn State.

Penn State has indicated that it will accept the sanctions, and it probably is secretly relieved that the penalties were not even more draconian.  Some Penn State fans are irate at the sanctions, but those people care more about their football fixations than they do about Penn State, the institution.  The institution clearly needs to change its focus and reorient its priorities.  Allowing years to pass before Penn State’s football program can again climb to the top of the college football heap will give the University time to do just that.

One other point should be made:  those sports fans who hated Penn State’s football team, and envied its success, shouldn’t view the NCAA’s actions today as a cause for celebration or mockery.  Such behavior is almost as inexcusable at Penn State’s many failures.  There is nothing to celebrate here, and no crass jokes should be made.  Penn State’s story is one of big-time college athletics gone horribly awry.  Every college with a big-time athletic program should be looking to learn a lesson from what happened, and more importantly what didn’t happen, in State College, Pennsylvania.

Irate At Penn State

The report issued today about the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal — and the egregious institutional failures at Penn State that permitted Sandusky to continue to act as a sexual predator for years — is a thoroughly damning document.  Investigators led by former FBI director Louis Freeh conducted more than 400 interviews and found from the evidence they collected that University leaders showed a shocking disregard for the interests of Sandusky’s victims.

In  prepared statement, Freeh said:  “Our most saddening and sobering finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims by the most senior leaders at Penn State.  The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized.”  Instead, Freeh states, former Penn State Athletic Director Tim Curley and former head football coach Joe Paterno, upon learning of the infamous incident involving Sandusky and a young boy in a shower, concealed facts, consciously decided not to report Sandusky’s conduct to authorities, and made no attempt to even identify — much less help — the young boy who was the victim of Sandusky’s depredation.  The report also implicates Penn State’s former president, who was ousted in the wake of the scandal, and the University’s Board of Trustees.  According to the CNN article linked above, however, none of the Board’s 32 trustees plans to resign, notwithstanding their failure to exercise the oversight that is the reason for the Board’s existence in the first place.

The report is just another disturbing chapter in what has become an increasingly troubling story — not just of the appalling criminal conduct of one man, but of a previously respected academic institution that completely lost its way and was unable to behave responsibly, morally, and ethically when confronted with evidence of that criminal conduct.  With every revelation of cover-ups and blame-shifting by Penn State officials and employees, the focus shifts away from the vile Sandusky and toward the compromised and corrupted University.  The fact that none of the Penn State trustees is willing to do the decent thing, and resign in recognition of their failures, is just another sign of Penn State’s fundamental accountability problems.

If I were a Penn State alum or student, or even a citizen of the state that allows the University to carry its name, I would insist on a thorough housecleaning that swept out the University administration, from trustees on down, and brought in people who know that, as leaders of an important academic and cultural institution, their first duty must be to act as responsible members of society.  Apparently, that’s a lesson that needs learning in State College, Pennsylvania.

When Adults Fail Children

Today I checked the BBC website and the top two stories on the “US & Canada” tab both dealt with sexual abuse of children — the guilty verdict in the Jerry Sandusky trial and the guilty verdict in a trial of a Philadelphia priest accused of covering up sexual abuse of children by the Catholic clergy.  Ugh.  Obviously, it’s not the kind of image of America we want to present to the world at large.

Although Sandusky and Monsignor William Lynn have been brought to justice, the overriding theme of their stories is of institutions and adults that failed to stand up for children.  It’s bad enough that there are sexual predators and abusers lurking in the dark corners of society, but it is inexcusable when people who could stop the criminal acts of those twisted individuals do not do so.

Children are among the most vulnerable people in society.  Parents know this, and also know that they must trust adults who interact with those children on any given day to protect and help them.  When those adults abdicate that responsibility — and instead seem to look the other way, or even worse, actively enable the sick abuser — it is frightening and infuriating.

We need to figure out how the Sandusky and Catholic priest horror stories happened, and how to stop them from ever happening again.  We have to determine how to restore the basic notions of right and wrong that should have caused the adults who failed to act to instead fulfill their obligations as members of a civilized society.

Horror In State College

The story told by the grand jury report on former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky is truly horrific.  It is a terrible thing to read, and an even more terrible thing to contemplate, because it says deeply disturbing things about our society.

Of course, the allegations of Sandusky’s wrongful interactions with underage boys are just that — allegations that have not been proven in a court of law.  However, what seems to be undisputed is that various Penn State officials were told of the alleged misconduct and nevertheless failed to report that information to the police so that the matter could be properly investigated.  This inexplicable inaction was the crucial and unforgivable failure.  By not alerting the appropriate authorities, the Penn State officials effectively assumed the role of investigator, prosecutor, judge, and jury and eliminated any chance that the criminal justice system could work as intended.  I have yet to read any rational, sensible explanation for this awful failure — and I frankly cannot imagine that any such explanation exists.

The story of what happened, and didn’t happen, at Penn State is not a sports story.  Instead, it is a story about an institution that lost its moral compass and its ability to distinguish right from wrong, an institution that did not comply with the most basic responsibilities and moral and ethical obligations imposed on all members of a civiilized society. How could such a thing happen?  How could an institution of higher education have lost its way so profoundly?

Edited to add:  Last night the Penn State Board of Trustees fired the University’s Preisdent, Graham Spanier, and its legendary head football coach, Joe Paterno, for their conduct in connection with the scandal.