Phil Sheridan: Penn State deserves NCAA sanctions

Joe Paterno allowed little scrutiny of the Penn State football program.
Joe Paterno allowed little scrutiny of the Penn State football program. (AP)
Posted: July 16, 2012

You wonder.

Now that you know unimaginable things about Penn State, you begin to wonder about the things you thought you knew. How does it all fit together?

For years, practically forever, Joe Paterno ran his football program as if it were a secret nuclear weapons program. Practices were closed to reporters. Access to players was strictly limited. The largest newspapers in Pennsylvania covered games and Paterno conference calls, for the most part. There was too little access to warrant having reporters full-time in State College.

Your first thought is that Jerry Sandusky was able to operate so openly at least partly because of that veil of secrecy. But then you wonder.

Was it the other way around? Was Paterno so secretive and frequently surly with the media because there were such dark secrets?

There was a similar situation with baseball players of the late 1980s and 1990s. Many of them were downright hostile toward the media who covered their game. When it became clear that many of them were pumped full of steroids, it all began to make more sense. The steroids themselves can make people meaner and more aggressive.

But the main thing was that those players had something to hide. They treated reporters like enemies because we were. All it took was for one reporter to notice androstenedione in Mark McGwire's locker. It's no wonder McGwire, Barry Bonds, and Roger Clemens were among the least pleasant people to approach in all of sports.

During his news conference Thursday morning in Philadelphia, former FBI Director Louis Freeh said his team discovered no evidence that Sandusky's 1999 retirement was connected to the 1998 police investigation of an accusation he molested a boy.

That doesn't mean there wasn't a connection, only that Freeh's investigation didn't unearth hard evidence. A close reading of his report certainly creates the impression that a link was not only possible, but likely.

Freeh notes that Sandusky received a $168,000 lump sum payment upon retiring. Two longtime Penn State officials are quoted as saying such a payment was unique. Sandusky was conferred with emeritus status, which required a bending of the existing rules and allowed him rights and privileges that he used to assault children.

Why do all of that for a 54-year-old employee who has just been questioned by police about inappropriate contact with a young boy? Why give Sandusky unlimited access to the facilities he'd admitted using to shower with two young boys?

It just makes no sense unless there is a cause-and-effect relationship.

Or this: After the 2001 incident, in which Mike McQueary saw Sandusky abusing a child in those same showers, Penn State athletic director Tim Curley told the director of the Second Mile a sanitized version of what happened. They agreed not to report the incident. A few months later, Penn State sold a parcel of land to the Second Mile for much less than its full value.

These events may be unrelated. They sure look bad, knowing what we know now.

Last year, after the grand jury report was released, I wrote that Penn State should decline any invitations to postseason bowl games. The football-first culture had to be abolished, and that would be a good first step.

Penn State went to the TicketCity Bowl.

Now that Freeh's report has landed, there are calls for Penn State to abolish its football program entirely, or for the NCAA to step in and do it.

My first reaction was that this qualified as overkill. Paterno was fired and has since died. Curley and vice president Gary Schultz face criminal charges. Former university president Graham B. Spanier was fired and could soon face charges himself. Why punish a new coaching staff and dozens of innocent players? (That's usually who pays when the NCAA comes down on a program.)

But the unsavory implications of the university's deals with Sandusky make serious NCAA sanctions seem more appropriate. At the very least, the NCAA should further investigate whether Penn State effectively rewarded Sandusky for stepping away from the football program and maintaining his own silence.

If the NCAA sanctions athletic programs because players get free tattoos or cash, then it must act in the case of a university financing a pedophile in order to maintain the pristine image of its football program.

That really is the picture the dots form, even if Freeh wasn't completely able to connect them.

The secrecy. The disdain for the media. The remarkable timing of Sandusky's retirement and the extraordinary perks given to him. The conspiracy of silence that was broken only when someone outside of Penn State's control reported Sandusky to police.

Paterno was right that Sandusky's horrific crimes were not a "football scandal."

The cover-up and the possible hush money, however, are very much a football scandal. And the football program should be punished accordingly.


Comprehensive coverage of the Jerry Sandusky scandal at www.philly.com/sandusky

Contact Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844 or psheridan@phillynews.com. Follow @Sheridanscribe on Twitter. Read his blog, "Philabuster," at philly.com/philabuster and his columns at philly.com/philsheridan

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