The Freeh Report is looming like a thundercloud over State College, Pa. Amid speculation that it will be released this week, the report could deepen the stain of scandal already soaking Penn State.
Commissioned by the school and headed by former FBI director Louis Freeh, it also could lend some clarity to a hot-button issue: whether the NCAA has any business sticking its enforcement nose into the school's Jerry Sandusky-related disaster.
If the report raises the specter of NCAA violations committed by the football program, then let the investigators from Indianapolis descend upon central Pennsylvania with full vigor. But as it stands today and as it relates to Sandusky, I believe the NCAA should sit this one out.
This is a matter for the courts. And, ultimately, a matter for Penn State itself.
Fans of rival programs looking at this as an athletic issue are badly missing the big picture. Lobbying for football justice, delivered by the NCAA, cheapens the gravity of this situation. This is not a matter of fan ideology, nor the stuff of booster debates at country clubs or on message boards.
This is far bigger and much more serious than anything the Committee on Infractions should be handling.
A pedophile has been found guilty and faces a life sentence for his crimes. Members of Penn State's leadership are facing criminal charges. The school figures to be facing a potentially staggering array of civil suits from Sandusky's victims. The very name "Penn State" will be associated with tragedy for decades, in a way perhaps only Kent State alums and supporters can understand.
And lest anyone forget, Joe Paterno – the greatest college football icon since Bear Bryant, at least – was summarily fired within days of the Sandusky allegations becoming public. His epic tenure ended in repudiation and humiliation at the hands of the Penn State Board of Trustees.
So if anyone thinks Penn State is getting off easy because the NCAA hasn't come to town, you're misinformed or myopic or don't understand the joys associated with prison time. Comparing and contrasting this situation with sanctions suffered by other programs reveals an embarrassing lack of perspective.
Beyond that, I don't believe the NCAA has the wherewithal, time or expertise to add criminal activity to its list of enforcement and punishment concerns. The association often has a difficult enough time handling excessive phone calls and agent interactions; now you want it to mete out institutional punishments for aiding and abetting child rape? Find the applicable bylaw for that in the NCAA Manual, please.
Just because Roger Goodell has established himself as the NFL's one-man judge, jury, executioner and appeals court doesn't mean college athletics should operate in a similar way – especially since there is no commissioner. And Mark Emmert, whose career has mostly been spent as an academic administrator, doesn't seem to have the skill set of a czar.
In addition to lacking the background and flexibility for handling legal affairs, the NCAA's involvement in Penn State also could open a Pandora's box of possibilities. Would the governing body then be expected to weigh in on other criminal activities at other schools? If so, which ones? Georgia running back Isaiah Crowell recently was dismissed after a felony weapons charge; should the NCAA jump in and sanction the school, too?
The answer is no. Those cases are no place for the NCAA.
Beyond the legal system, the one institution that should step forward and handle the fallout from the Sandusky scandal is Penn State itself.
The Freeh Report is the result of the school's internal investigation. If that report condemns Paterno and the culture of Penn State football as being complicit in allowing Sandusky to terrorize children, then the school will have to check its own moral compass on how to proceed.
Removal of the Paterno statue at Beaver Stadium would be worth strong consideration. Given how much Penn Staters have invested in their football program's reputation, that act alone would be a devastating blow – but this doesn't seem like the time for half measures designed to appease football fans. A university must stand for more than just its won-lost record.
If anything, this is the time for a serious re-examination of football's role at the university. If an obsession with maintaining the reputation and prestige of the program is determined to have played a part in not turning Sandusky in to the police, then there is a disease in Happy Valley so poisonous that the only way to remove it might be amputation.
Like shutting down the program. Or de-emphasizing it.
Is that likely? Of course not. It might not be an appropriate response, either – we have to see what's in the Freeh Report. But if the results are troubling enough, it should be discussed at the highest levels of the school.
The University of Chicago once played in the Big Ten, was coached by the legendary Amos Alonzo Stagg and produced the first Heisman Trophy winner, Jay Berwanger. Then the school decided that football had become antithetical to the school's academic mission and dropped the sport in 1939. Today, Chicago plays Division III football while maintaining its reputation as one of the nation's premier universities.
So there is life after football in American higher education.
We should know more soon about whether Penn State ought to consider such a life. But based on the Sandusky scandal alone, it should be the school's decision, without any input from the NCAA.
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