Where to begin? I feel angry, confused, disappointed, frustrated, but mostly I feel sad. Sad for the players who are on the team now, sad for those who played for State from 1998 through last year, and sad for Jerry Sandusky’s victims, who at this point must be wishing that this whole thing would go away, allowing them to have their day in court and then move on. Which brings up the question that I alluded to yesterday: what DO the victims think of all this? What do they think should be done with the statue? How should Joe Paterno be remembered? What punishment should Penn State endure? There’s a story that some enterprising journalist should be pursuing right now.
For myself, I’m left with ambivalent feelings about Paterno. His positive impact on thousands of lives has been noted again and again. His monetary contributions to the University are unequaled by any coach in history. His “common man” touch – from walking to practice (something he hasn’t done in years, BTW) to living in perhaps the most modest house of any Division I coach in the country – have been well documented.
But I am not a member of the JoePa cult. He was beloved by many, especially his ex-players. But the man had flaws, and they became more pronounced in his later years. His us-against-them mentality toward the media, the fans and, it turns out, the administration, became his biggest fault and his ultimate downfall. He was nasty and short-tempered in many of his public utterances, and I began to feel several years ago that he was hurting Penn State’s image and that he should retire. Besides, he was no longer, in my opinion, a top echelon coach or recruiter. Society – not so much the game itself – had passed him by. He had no knowledge of social media and little understanding of contemporary society, even though he was an extremely intelligent man. He could have retired and become an ambassador for the University, gathering accolades for himself and the institution, and maybe picking up a few four-star recruits along the way. But he could never let go of the reins.
That said, the NCAA sanctions were too severe, in my opinion. Aside from the players, past and present, the other victims of these rulings are all of Central Pennsylvania and the businesses located there. The economic and social impact of this is incalculable (well, not entirely; the $60 million fine is equal to one season’s income from the football program). Jobs will be lost, stores will be closed, and educational opportunities will be cut off. The sanctions will have a disastrous effect for years to come.
As for the football program, it probably won’t recover during my lifetime. Expect a mostly slow, white squad that is equivalent to a Division II program. In fact, I have four years of athletic eligibility left, and I’m thinking I may be able to catch on as a linebacker at my alma mater. I have confidence that Bill O'Brien is up to the task for restoring the Blue and White to national prominence, but he will have to be patient. And so will Nittany Nation.
Speaking of Nittany Nation, expect a backlash from alumni in the form of financial support and attendance at games. I expect a sold-out Beaver Stadium at every game this year, and I expect a depleted squad to play above their heads most of the year. Wouldn’t it be great if they qualified for the Big 10 championship game, even though they can’t play in it.
In the meantime, I hope the Sandusky’s victims are healing.