According to ESPN's Bonnie Bernstein, though, Paterno told her that Scott was finished, done, kaput.
So, which was it?
On the team or off the team?
In a beautiful bit of technological whimsy, the sound went out on the weekly conference call just as Paterno answered the only tough question of the hour.
(Although, really, it was tougher to ask than to answer. On the team, off the team - it really is a fairly simple question.)
Anyway, you couldn't hear Paterno's answer to that one, or to the next question, before an operator broke in and said that something was amiss, at which point somebody immediately leaned on a button of some sort and then you could hear Paterno just fine.
But what did he say?
If you attended the press conference in person, as the Daily News' Bernard Fernandez did, you heard Paterno say this when asked about Scott's status:
"You want to talk about anybody that we're playing? I'm not going to talk about it. Austin Scott's got to work some things out."
To which there can be only one intelligent response:
Who does the aging emperor think he's kidding? On the team or off the team - which is it? This is not going away. Scott deserved a better answer. The people who root for his team deserved a better answer. So, frankly, did Paterno's legacy. He is the face of a huge athletic enterprise and, well, somebody over there is going to have to tell him that the proper reply to every difficult question is not to begin speaking in High Curmudgeon.
Because the difficult questions are coming in waves now, along with the incident reports, and High Curmudgeon can lose its charm pretty quickly when the subject changes from your quarterback's critics to a player charged with sexual assault.
On the team or off? It is astounding that Paterno cannot tell you which it is.
Here is the correct answer, one that I'm sure an entire squadron of Penn State people would have been willing to supply if Paterno had bothered to ask:
"We are very sensitive to the issue of acquaintance rape, and violence against women. We condemn such behavior in the strongest terms. But the allegation against Austin Scott is just that, an allegation. While we believe his participation in games would be a distraction both to him and to the team at this point, he remains a member of our team and deserves the presumption of innocence. So as not to interfere with the legal process, this will be our last statement on the subject."
That's it. They should not be kicking Scott off the team, not while there remains the potential for a jury to be picked. There should not be any public pronouncement, by word or deed, that shows Penn State having made its own decision on this case.
If Paterno did tell Bernstein that Scott is finished, he should be reprimanded by one of his bosses. There needs to be a recognition, by Paterno and that university, of the power it wields and of the potential poisoning of a jury pool that could occur if it were to condemn Scott at this point by throwing him off that team.
I don't know Paterno at all, only having admired his work from afar - and that is the exact word, admired. I do know all about football coaches who only answer the questions they want to answer, having sat through a couple of hundred Andy Reid press availabilities in the last 9 years.
But even Reid wouldn't try to pull something like this. If Paterno wants to growl his way through the football questions for the rest of his career, that's fine (and, sometimes, entertaining). This is different, though, and somebody over there is going to have to tell him. There are real stakes here, and there is a proper way for a public person to act in this kind of situation, and yesterday wasn't it.
In the end, grumpiness ad absurdum is not charming. It is just absurd.
Send e-mail to email@example.com. For recent columns, go to http://go.philly.com/hofmann.