Thursday, July 26, 2012

Penn State Plays Chicken with the NCAA

This column was first published in the July 25, 2012 edition of the Gettysburg Times.

The NCAA doesn’t realize it, but it’s just set up a game of chicken with the Penn State community, one that neither organization can afford to lose.
They've locked eyes with the Penn State community and said, we think you’re crazy. You deserve punishment. We will strip you of your culture and reduce you to nothing with a slow bleed of the program.
I’ve been told I’m overstating this when looking at a $60 million sanction, a four-year football postseason ban and a vacation of all wins dating to 1998. Penn State also must reduce scholarships each year for a four-year period. The Penn State athletic program is also on probation for five years and must work withan athletic- integrity monitor of NCAA’s choosing. Any current or incoming football players are free to immediately transfer and compete at another school.
Essentially they’ve rolled the clock back to 1998, asked what Penn State feared in losing by acting in accordance to its moral obligation, then retroactively put those doomsday scenarios to work as if they’d acted righteously.
Now Penn Staters have to make a horrible choice: continue investing in the program regardless of the inevitable decline that is to come, only to be labeled as a fanatical fan base that still puts football over all else, or abandon it and let it die.
The very culture that the NCAA is publicly suppressing is now being challenged to financially save the thing that supposedly made us blindly evil in the first place. It’s a trap, and it’s one we need to fall into. Not because we’re evil, but because we believe in Penn State.
We believe in nameless jerseys and shared sacrifice. We believe in 110,000 fans showing up every game in an 11-1 or a 4-8 season. Some days the attendance might not hit six figures, and others the student section will only fill for the middle quarters, but we show up.
We’re not strange to get wrapped up in sports. Just like any fans, we live and die with our team throughout a season. It’s silly to attach our emotions to the team’s success, but if you’re reading this in the sports section, you probably understand it.
While we care as much as any other fan base about the wins and losses, we also care about the communal quality of our presentation. Before Penn State became a crazy cult in the eyes of the outside world, it would marvel at the power of our tailgates.
It’s hard to take a walk through the vehicle-covered fields without a handshake, beverage or meal offered. You might even meet the parents of one of your favorite Penn State players and be invited to meet their son after the game.
And guess what? When it comes to looking at our football building and realizing what took place in the locker room showers all those years ago, we are disgusted too.
We feel pain every time we think of it. Not nearly as much pain as the victims felt and are still feeling as adolescents and adults, but damn it, this is hard!
With or without the punishment of our program, this has forced us all to look at the triviality of a win-loss record. That’s why most Penn State fans didn’t even blink when the program was forced to vacate
victories that reduced our former coach, Joe Paterno, from 409 to 298.
What we have trouble understanding is the mean-spirited glee that comes from people saying, “I told you so.”
Every time someone looks at Penn State, laughs without a thought and says, “Yeah... well you should have thought of that before...” I ask, before what? Before putting our trust into something good? Something that felt wholesome?
If having faith in goodness is a crime deserving of at least a half decade of public embarrassment, then hasn’t society failed elsewhere? I’ll take that we put a little too much faith in our athletic regime to make the right decisions, but no more than any other university in the country. Name one school where the players, students and alumni WOULDN’T be shocked to have this happen to them?
My friends that still live in State College are going to pay economically through this revenue loss. The students and alumni will pay just as much.
The University will need funds never before necessary, which may come at the expense of extinguished extra-curricular programs, research and potentially even branch campuses. Anyone that believes Penn State will pay without a decreased utilities or a tuition increase has never witnessed crude accounting wizardry.
The readership of this paper is probably evenly divided on feelings of empathy. Fifty percent is promising — the majority of the country can’t wait to see us fall on our faces.
The deal made between Penn State President Rodney Erickson and NCAA President Mark Emmert is, by design, intended to allow the surrounding world its glory in watching the Nittany Lions fall on their faces. It places the players in the stocks for embarrassment to satiate the country’s call for blood.
The allowance for a season that includes broadcast rights — looked at as a positive for Penn State in regards to revenues — assures that we become a spectacle for their amusement. In essence, to survive, we must submit to cruel and unusual punishment.
This would not be so vile had the NCAA installed ground rules to make sure that deeds like this never occur again. Instead of taking the disciplined road, writing out various levels of sanctions for all levels of offenses that make a joke of amateurism, they’ve instead installed a cloud of fear that is governed by chaos.
In this cloud, the NCAA lords without regulation. They can choose to act with vengeance; or to disregard actions entirely.
This sounds eerily similar to the way in which the infamous Penn State group, Paterno, Athletic Director Tim Curley and Penn State Vice President Gary Schultz acted, and in at least one important case, failed to act.
Talk continues about unprecedented crimes at Penn State, when, in fact there were two separate crimes that occurred. Only the combination of the two was unprecedented.
The first, children were sexually abused. The second, an NCAA program tried to cover up its wrong-doings and failed to self-report.
Penn State is paying a king’s ransom for the crimes of an individual, but the law Penn State violated that gave it a competitive advantage is one that happens several times a year: acting in self-preservation through denial and failure to self-report to protect the interests of a football program.
The NCAA has handcuffed these violations together for the ultimate punishment, but will it continue to handcuff criminal or unethical behavior to programs as they work in self-preservation?
A precedent is not wrong, so long as there is consistent follow through. The ball is now in the NCAA’s court to ensure all bad behavior is met with strict consequences.
Anything less than that mirrors the same “make it up as we go along” mentality that became the crux of Penn State’s obliteration.
As a Penn State fan who’s looking forward to actually being able to cheer for a team that will be held to a higher standard, I still support strong sanctions against our school. My question is, how can a fan from another school say Penn State got what it deserved, then shrug when the NCAA puts no strict guidelines and punishments in place for those who act in self-preservation by failing to report?
If this madness continues to occur throughout the country, then the Penn State and State College communities have taken a shot in vain. That is something I will not stand for. I care too much about that community to see it suffer for nothing.
So, Penn State nation? Rise up. Take back your football team. Be the yahoos they believe us to be, but cheer for it for the right reasons. If the rest of the NCAA is corrupt, let us become the true beacon that Paterno once envisioned when he unleashed The Grand Experiment. If it doesn’t result in national championships, we won’t care. Any kid and coach that has the guts to stick this out has as much character as any champ. We’re going to be the start of something new. We are Penn State. We can be more.