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Keller: Penn State distancing itself from Paterno era

July 23, 2012
  • Mark Keller
Mark Keller

The NCAA dropped the hammer on Penn State University on Monday, effectively crippling its once-storied-but-now-stained football program for years to come and doing so with incredible haste.

Just weeks after former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was convicted of dozens of counts of child sexual abuse and days after the release of the Penn State-commissioned Freeh Report, the NCAA banned the Nittany Lions from the postseason for four years, stripped them of 40 scholarships, vacated 111 wins from 1998 to 2011 and fined the university $60 million.

In comparison, rumors of violations in the USC/Reggie Bush case surfaced during Bush’s senior season in 2005. The NCAA didn’t invoke justice until 2010.

So obviously, the NCAA president and executive committee felt something needed to be done and it needed to be done quickly.

The questions being batted around in the aftermath of the Monday morning flogging are whether the punishment was fair to the school and whether the NCAA overstepped its bounds in doling out such a sentence for a matter that had nothing to do with its rules being broken.

The answer to those questions: It doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter if I think it’s fair, if you think it’s fair, if the Paterno family thinks it’s fair.

Penn State University looked at the punishment the NCAA was handing down and said, “We’ll take it.”

End of story.

This could have been the lesser of two evils the NCAA was offering. One report said Penn State could have faced up to four years without any football if they didn’t take this punishment.

Instead, I think this is the final step — following, among other things, the removal of Joe Paterno as coach and the dismantling of his shrine outside Beaver Stadium — in the school’s plan to put this whole mess in its rear-view mirror as quickly as possible.

They’re using the same haste in moving on as the NCAA did in taking action.

And why shouldn’t they? Because it’s taken 14 years to get to this point.

It’s been 14 years since the first allegations were made against Sandusky — and those are just the first allegations. Who knows if there were more incidents of child abuse before 1998?

How different could things have been if Joe Paterno had been the moral compass he had projected himself to be and turned in Sandusky?

I imagine Sandusky’s victims — especially those who were abused after 1998 — wonder that all the time.

No, it now appears the only compass Paterno was following was the one that pointed north on the all-time wins list. What other reason would he have for keeping the horrific actions of one of his coaches secret for so long? It was all about protecting the program.

It was all about keeping the recruits coming in. Because if word got out that a child predator had been roaming the sidelines and locker rooms at Penn State, those blue chips might be scared off.

So, in that sense, Paterno did cheat to get some of those 111 wins that are now erased.

He was able to keep players and bring in new recruits by hiding — for years — the slimy truth about one of the men who helped build Penn State into a football power.

Paterno had 14 years to do the right thing, to put basic human decency above a football program. He failed, and he wasn’t alone.

But there is no denying — and there probably never was — that Paterno was the most powerful man at Penn State, the most powerful man in State College, Pa. He had the power to stop the abuse and to keep this snowball from growing to gargantuan proportions.

He failed there, too.

From the day the Sandusky story broke, there have been varied opinions about the actions — or inactions — of Penn State officials, up to and including Paterno.

And of course, the Paterno family — outspoken in its opposition to the Freeh Report — released a statement regarding the actions of the NCAA. Part of that statement reads:

“That the (Penn State) President, the Athletic Director and the Board of Trustees accepted this unprecedented action by the NCAA without requiring a full due process hearing before the Committee on Infractions is an abdication of their responsibilities and a breach of their fiduciary duties to the University and the 500,000 alumni.”

I’m pretty sure Penn State officials don’t give a damn what the Paterno family thinks of their accepting the NCAA’s punishment, particulary given the steps the university has taken to distancing itself from its former coach.

One wonders if the oft-mentioned Paterno Library will soon be renamed. It wouldn’t be surprising.

Penn State is washing its hands of all things Paterno. And right now, it’s probably the best move the school could make.

Mark Keller is sports editor of The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 301-791-7728 or by email at keller@herald-mail.com.

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