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BLOG: Penn State Must Do The Right Thing And Suspend Football Program

(credit: Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

(credit: Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

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By Joseph Santoliquito

PHILADELPHIA (CBS)—Now we have the facts. Now we know who knew what, and how much they knew involving Penn State, Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, and the great lengths duplicitous Penn State administrators went to maintain the glossy protective sheen of its football culture as the Jerry Sandusky sexual-abuse scandal surfaced.

Now what’s the next step?

Should the NCAA place sanctions on Penn State football, though the school did not technically violate any NCAA bylaw? Should Penn State itself, in lieu of what the school’s Board of Trustees initiated with the Louis Freeh Report, act and place its own sanctions on the football program?

In one of the more scathing revelations that came out in the 267-page Freeh Report:

“Four of the most powerful people at The Pennsylvania State University—President Graham B. Spanier, Senior Vice President-Finance and Business Gary C. Schultz, Athletic Director Timothy M. Curley and Head Football Coach Joseph V. Paterno—failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade.”

Freeh explained why four senior officials at the school—Penn State’s Gang of Four—chose to actively conceal the Sandusky information, “As we put in our report, the motivations to avoid the consequences of bad publicity, not just bad publicity. What are the consequences of bad publicity are government investigations, donors being upset, the university community being very upset, as we saw in November 2011, raising questions about what they themselves did in 1998.

“What’s striking about 1998 is no one even spoke to Sandusky, not one of those four persons, including the coach who was a few steps away from his office. There’s no indication that anybody spoke to him. There’s no indication that Coach Paterno called all of his assistant coaches in and said, ‘Hey look, make sure this guy Sandusky doesn’t bring any more kids into the shower room.’ In other words, there’s a lots of consequences that go with bad publicity in 2001.”

How did it involve the football program?

“I think bad publicity affects a panorama of different events, including the brand of Penn State, including the university, reputation of coaches, including the ability of doing fundraising, it’s got huge implications,” Freeh said. “This notion of bad publicity, which is really disclosure opening and reporting, is a pervasive concern and fear by the people running the university. There are several emails in 1998, which we found by the way, that [Paterno] was clearly following the case. The coach wants to be advised. What’s going on? So the notion that there was no attention paid at the time is completely contradicted by the evidence.”

These are the pressing, damning queries the school may be facing, and facing soon. The Freeh investigating team has been in “regular contact” with the NCAA and Big 10, according to Freeh.

“We’ve been in regular contact with both organizations since the investigation began,” Freeh said. “We haven’t obviously given them or supplied them any of the evidence or contents that we have found. We have been in regular discussions with them, at their initiation. They are conducting, as they have said publicly, inquiries into this matter. What they find is going to be based on their criteria and their conclusions.”

What Penn State should do, before the NCAA or Big 10 possibly intervenes, is place a one-year suspension on the football program. The school appears guilty of many, many wrongdoings. It’s really that simple: Penn State’s football culture needs to be overhauled. One of its chief architects, Sandusky, was found guilty on 45 of 48 child sexual-abuse charges.

Outside hammers need to fall. More needs to be done than Nike removing Paterno’s name off of its child care center building.

The NCAA needs to act. But can it? There is no precedence. What happened at Penn State does not fall under the parameters of what the NCAA defines as a lack of institutional control. The Freeh Report places what could be defined as criminal blame on what happened at Penn State, but ironically, the NCAA may not be able to do anything about it. This heinous situation is far beyond the realm of anything the NCAA ever dealt with.

“If Penn State was handing out money to recruits, the NCAA can slap them with probation or the death penalty, but this is so unfathomable that the NCAA can’t act,” said Michael Bradley, college football expert for Athlon. “The NCAA doesn’t have anything in the rulebook that says you can’t enable a child molester and deal with a legal situation like this. I would be surprised if the NCAA would come down with something. They don’t have anything that’s congruent. That’s why I would be very surprised if they did something. It will be incumbent for Penn State’s Board of Trustees to do something.”

It would be up to Penn State to act.

Will they act? Probably not. Penn State football is a multi-million dollar brand that pays for almost every other Penn State sports program. Penn State football is presented as collegiate sports, but everyone knows the truth: It’s a daunting, big-shouldered corporation. Though what happened at Penn State is inexcusable, Freeh’s comments about what the janitors admitted in the report reveals why: “They were afraid to take on the football program. It was like going against the President of the United States. If that’s the culture on the bottom, God help the culture on the top.”

Penn State should do the right thing—and place the football program, the biggest toy in their sports department, in the toy box. The school should honor all player scholarships, and salaries for the new football staff. But Penn State should follow the template Duke carved out in 2006 in the Duke mens’ lacrosse rape case, when two Duke players were indicted for rape and were later exonerated.

Duke President Richard Brodhead decided to suspend the team on March 28, 2006 from play “until there is a clearer resolution of the legal situation involving team members.”

Duke acted in a case where its players weren’t guilty. Duke made a statement that its mens’ lacrosse culture—at that time—had to be investigated. There’s blatant guilt at Penn State. Sandusky is already in jail. Granted, the Freeh report is a non-criminal investigation, but Shultz and Curley are currently facing criminal charges. Spanier is possibly at risk for facing criminal charges.

Many colleges have policed themselves and placed self-imposed sanctions on their programs when they uncovered past discretions. It would be a shame to cast a wide-ranging shadow on the current Penn State program and administration. They’re not guilty of anything. But an act of contrition should go beyond the money that will undoubtedly be doled out in civil suits. An act of contrition shows accountability for a football culture that had grown beyond the scope of the powers-that-were, viewed as infallible as the Pope.

“The most saddening finding by the Special Investigative Counsel is the total and consistent disregard by the most senior leaders at Penn State for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims. The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized,” the Freeh Report states.

It’s a shame about reality in college sports today, where the innocent are always paying the price for previous transgressions of players and coaches. Look at Ohio State. Ohio State players broke the rules, Jim Tressel looked the other way, lost his job and Urban Meyer will pay for it this season, as will, regrettably, his team.

No one on this current Ohio State team did anything wrong. Yet, the NCAA slammed Ohio State with a one-year bowl ban because eight former players took money and tattoos in exchange for Ohio State memorabilia. Is it right that the current OSU players are forced to suffer? No. At Penn State, we’re talking about far more than money and tattoos. We’re talking about real life here. Innocent children were abused for 14 years.

Children were sexually assaulted in the Lasch Building, Penn State’s football facility where they showered, and trained and forged a legacy, and no one did anything about it. It seems serious people that proudly wore blue-and-white may have been aware, and chose to look the other way. If that’s not a slamming indictment about Penn State’s football culture that spanned over a decade, then it’s hard to find what would be.

The NCAA had to step into the Ohio State situation. They probably can’t do anything to Penn State. But haven’t enough innocents already paid a terrible price?

Penn State’s Board of Trustees, in response to the Freeh Report, publicly accepted accountability for letting the Sandusky matter grow out of control, and for not keeping a more vigilant eye on the football program. But again, nothing was done. No board members offered their resignation. They eluded the torrential fallout. More inaction.

Penn State owes an ethical and just obligation to the victims, to uphold the genuine standards Paterno himself tried to set for the program. In the end, it became an unwieldy beast. In the end, it seems the enormity of the program swallowed a good man and his great vision—the convergence of academics and major college football.

It’s why Penn State should act. It’s looked the other way long enough.