Green Room

Penn State makes Joe Paterno vanish; NCAA may do worse

posted at 2:18 pm on July 22, 2012 by

If you know the name of Lavrentiy Beria, onetime Russian secret police chief, it is not because of the Great Soviet EncyclopediaIn 1953, following Beria’s arrest and subsequent execution for “criminal activities against the Party and the State,” all public records of him were expunged. Subscribers to earlier editions of the encyclopedia received a page to replace the one with an entry for Beria.

It may be said in a similar vein that if you know what legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno looked like, it is not because of the statue of him that was erected outside of Beaver Stadium shortly after his death in January. The statue of the Nittany Lion coach of 46 years was removed from its pedestal shortly before dawn on Sunday—the latest symbolic mea culpa for the shame Paterno’s sin of omission brought the university and its hallowed football program.

The decision to remove the statue came ten days after the release of a scathing report by former FBI director Louis J. Freeh which found that Paterno had conspired with three other top Penn State administrators to conceal allegations of child sexual abuse made against former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. According to the Freeh report, the motive was self-serving: to shield the university and its football program from negative publicity.

Of the statue’s removal, Penn State President Rodney Erickson said in a 592-word statement to the press:

I now believe that, contrary to is original intention, Coach Paterno’s statue has become a source of division and an obstacle to healing in our university and beyond. For that reason, I have decided that it is in the best interest of our university and public safety to remove the statue….

I fully realize that my decision will not be popular in some Penn State circles, but I am certain it is the right and principled decision.

Erickson intimated that the 7-foot, 900-pound bronze casting may not be gone permanently. He stated that the sculpture will be stored in an unnamed “secure location,” adding that Paterno’s name will remain on the university’s library. Whatever.

If the story ended there, so would this article. But there is more. The NCAA, which governs college sports, has said it plans to take “corrective and punitive measures” against Penn State’s football program. Details will be revealed in a press conference at 9 a.m. on Monday.

One possibility that was initially raised but since rejected is the so-called “death penalty,”suspension of the program for at least one year. But NCAA president Mark Emmert has made it clear that the penalties the association does mete out may be worse than death. Talk of significant loss of scholarships and of multiple bowls is being bandied about on sports websites.

Drastic times call for drastic measures, but one wonders if the NCAA is overreacting. The decision they make could impact the lives of innocent adolescents—young men who showed the requisite skills in high school and signed on to play in Penn State’s prestigious program only to find themselves in limbo.

Then there is the matter of protocol. ESPN writes:

The NCAA is taking unprecedented measures with the decision to penalize Penn State without the due process of a Committee on Infractions hearing.

The NCAA has a system in place in which it conducts its own investigations, issues a notice of allegations and then allows the university 90 days to respond before a hearing is scheduled.

Following the hearing, the Infractions Committee then usually takes a minimum of six weeks but it can take upwards of a year to issue its findings.

But in the case of Penn State, the NCAA appears to be using the Freeh report—commissioned by the school’s board of trustees—instead of its own investigation, before handing down sanctions.

The NCAA has taken heat in recent years for a number of bad decisions, such as suspending players for relatively minor indiscretions, and its rigidity. Some commentators have even questioned whether membership for a university is worth all the aggravation. Could its overreaction to the Penn State scandal be the last straw?

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