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Blame the NCAA

Posted by Eric Fisher On January 18

Fisher column logo2The Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal should never have been about football.

The NCAA made it about football. Not Penn State.

So, in the wake of Friday’s news that the NCAA sanctions against the football program, including the restoration of 112 wins, have been rescinded, criticism of Penn State supporters for making the issue about football instead of about victims of sexual abuse is misplaced.

Penn State didn’t make the Sandusky scandal about the 112 wins and Joe Paterno being the all-time wins leader in major college football. The NCAA did.

Penn State didn’t make the Sandusky scandal about postseason bowl bans. The NCAA did.

Penn State didn’t make the Sandusky scandal about scholarship reductions. The NCAA did.

The NCAA even threatened – or bluffed, as we found out later – the Penn State Board of Trustees into accepting these sanctions through a consent decree by threatening the “death penalty,” which would have shut down the football program.

What did any of these sanctions, with the exception of the $60 million fine, have to do with the young male victims of a sexual predator?

The sanctions weren’t about the victims. They weren’t really even about football.

The sanctions were about the NCAA, which was getting pummeled in its power struggle with the big conferences over control of major college football, seizing an opportunity to flex its muscles.

As I wrote when the sanctions were imposed, the NCAA was a desperate bully who tried to restore its reputation by attacking a victim it thought wouldn’t fight back. Not only wouldn’t Penn State fight back, but it was unlikely anyone would rush to Penn State’s aid for fear of being painted as supporters of a pedophile.

A few of us, lonely voices in the media wilderness, criticized the NCAA for imposing the sanctions. There were probably more media calling for Penn State to receive the death penalty than saying the sanctions were too harsh. Most of the media piled on Penn State, lambasting the university and Paterno, the most public figure mentioned in the infamous Freeh Report.

My criticism of the NCAA wasn’t simply for the severity, and irrelevance, of the unprecedented sanctions. The criticism was also for the NCAA’s failure to conduct its own investigation and follow its own guidelines for punishing member schools. Because it didn’t conduct its own investigation, the NCAA relied on the badly flawed Freeh Report.

Without rehashing all the particulars of the Freeh Report, an investigation conducted by former FBI director Louis Freeh at the request of Penn State, it should not have been used as the final word on the scandal. The Freeh Report reads like a prosecutor’s case, filled with assumptions and leaps of faith, rather than as the conclusion of a fair and impartial investigation.

When I watched the news conference and heard the reports about the findings of the Freeh Report, I was in shock.

And then I read the Freeh Report. All of it. Twice.

Apparently, many media members did not wait to read the report before joining the feeding frenzy. Before anyone possibly could have read and digested the entire Freeh Report, the media attacked, rushing to be the first to express outrage and disgust.

Like sharks circling a wounded elephant seal, they couldn’t wait to take a chomp out of Penn State and Paterno. ESPN, the great white shark of sports media, satisfied its voracious appetite for controversy (and ratings) by leading the charge to tear down Penn State and Paterno.

The issue, thanks to the NCAA, was now all about football. The discussion wasn’t about Sandusky’s victims. It was about the unprecedented penalties that had been imposed on the football program – even though Sandusky, a former defensive coordinator, was no longer part of the football program.

One of the sanctions allowed players to transfer from Penn State without losing a year of eligibility. Coaches from other universities, some without pristine records with regard to recruiting and academics, swooped down on these players and Penn State recruits like vultures picking through a decaying carcass.

But the carcass wasn’t quite dead. Led by proud leaders such as Mike Mauti and Michael Zordich, the players defended the football program and their university. Most players chose to remain at Penn State. Many recruits, such as quarterback Christian Hackenberg, reaffirmed their commitment to attend Penn State. The program was damaged, but, contrary to what some suggested might happen, the Nittany Lions didn’t wither up and fade away.

Notice how the discussion again shifted toward football.

As it turns out, media members weren’t the only ones who expressed outrage without reading the Freeh Report. Court documents in a lawsuit filed by the Paterno family reveal that Ed Ray, Oregon State’s president and chairman of the NCAA executive committee, didn’t read the Freeh Report, either. He admitted that he did not read the report before leaving for Hawaii a few days after the Freeh Report was made public, and did not read it before taking part in discussions about the sanctions to be imposed upon Penn State. That didn’t stop Ray, however, from taking part in the news conference announcing the NCAA sanctions.

You have to wonder how many other members of the executive committee didn’t read the Freeh Report. You have to wonder how many other embarrassing pieces of information about the NCAA were going to be revealed in lawsuits filed by the Paterno family and by Pennsylvania Senate majority leader Jake Corman, who represents the district that includes Penn State’s main campus, and state treasurer Rob McCord.

But that’s not the spin the sanctimonious NCAA put on the settlement agreement, which applies only to the lawsuit filed by Corman and McCord, not the suit filed by the Paterno family and former Penn State assistant coaches.

“Continuing this litigation would further delay the distribution of funds to child sexual abuse survivors for years, undermining the very intent of the fine,” said Harris Pastides, University of South Carolina president and member of the NCAA Board of Governors, in a statement released by the NCAA. “While others will focus on the return of wins, our top priority is on protecting, educating and nurturing young people.”

Does anyone believe concern for victims of sexual abuse is the reason the NCAA agreed to the settlement? I hope not.

The arrogant NCAA, in its official release regarding the settlement, even refused to admit it overstepped its bounds. In the NCAA’s statement, Kirk Schulz, Kansas State president and chair of the NCAA Board of Governors, insisted that the settlement agreement “reaffirms our authority to act.”

The NCAA bully refuses to face reality. Powerless to control the rampant cheating in recruiting and academic fraud prevalent in major college football, the NCAA found what it thought was an easy target. But it was the wrong target.

Far from being an example of a school with a football culture problem, Penn State has a football program that, while not perfect, never had a whiff of a recruiting violation or academic fraud. The Nittany Lions consistently have a high graduation rate. Furthermore, contrary to the majority of major college football programs, there is almost no difference in the graduation rates of its African-American and white players. One of the main library buildings is even named after Joe and Sue Paterno. How many schools have a library building named for a football coach?

Not only was Penn State the wrong target to make a point about institutional control, but the football program was the wrong target.

You can’t blame Penn State, which did not receive the benefit of due process, for celebrating its long-awaited victory. You can’t blame the football program and the Paterno family for celebrating the removal of some of the stain – but not all of it –  off its reputation. In the context of the NCAA sanctions, Penn State and its football program have been vindicated.

Penn State won a fight that never should have happened. There never should have been a battle over football scholarships and restoring victories. That’s a fight the NCAA picked; not Penn State.

Now, the focus can return to the real victims of the Sandusky tragedy. Now, the focus can return to the handling of the Sandusky situation by Penn State administrators.

If there was a cause for celebration Friday, it was that the Sandusky scandal is no longer about football.

It is about supporting victims of sexual abuse and finding the truth.

As it always should have been.

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15 Responses

  1. TAH409Forever Says:

    THANK YOU ERIC!!! Finally a piece that states truth and rejects the false narrative that ESPN, Sarah Ganim, Buzz Bissinger, Sally Jenkins & rest of MSM ilk have been jamming down Americas throats since the beginning. They have all turned into yellow journalists pushing propaganda they know full well to be far from fair, balanced or truthful reporting. You are so right they chose the wrong school to target! Now PSU nation along iwth the Paterno’s need to continue the fight to remove the remaining parts of that “stain” they never deserved in the first place. A necessary step in this pursuit will require purging of the deeply corrupt & self serving PSU BOT cabal who have done such grave harm to the great institution they are supposed to be leading, protecting and serving.

    Posted on January 18th, 2015 at 11:21 pm

  2. Thomas Bopp Says:

    My God, finally someone who has some common sense. It could not have been said any better!! Thank You for having the nerve to post the truth.

    Posted on January 18th, 2015 at 11:35 pm

  3. Janet Kudravetz Says:

    Great article. Thank you.

    Posted on January 19th, 2015 at 12:01 am

  4. David A. Keightly, Sr Says:

    This is one of the best, most factually correct analyses I’ve seen on this subject. Thank you.

    Posted on January 19th, 2015 at 7:20 am

  5. scott e phillips Says:

    Well said, sir. You nailed it.

    Posted on January 19th, 2015 at 8:43 am

  6. Jim Rothenberger Says:

    TAH409Forever said it best, so there’s no need to repeat. However, there is a need to add.

    The last few days I’ve read and heard many uninformed media types talking about the exuberance the Penn State “football culture” has from the decision by the NCAA to return those 112 wins, as if they ever left.

    The return to “409” is not merely a celebration of football victories or the career of a football coach. It is the beginning of the return to the goal Paterno set when he dedicated his life to Penn State, “Success with Honor”.

    The false narrative that was generated around this case will never be allowed to exist because the goal from day one was to get to the truth and we are still many victories away from that goal.

    While the MSM marketed what would sell, a “failed iconic” coach and a football “culture” out of control sells a lot of print and hits. The truth? Not so much.

    What has been missed in this firestorm is the fact that nobody has investigated the leak of a highly inflammatory GJ Presentment (better known as the AG’s call for a trial) and the fact that Mike McQueary’s later testimony that never came close to what was written in the report. This alone as well as the constant leaks over the next 6 months insured Jerry Sandusky’s fate.

    Lost totally were the apparent failures within The Second Mile where Jerry apparently got his victims. They were never investigated and for some inexplicable reason, the victims that settled with Penn State had to agree to not go after TSM.

    Nobody has looked at the state and local agencies that were responsible for protecting our children or those responsible for putting foster children in the Sandusky household. Nobody has wondered how he could adopt so many children.

    Nobody has even identified how Freeh was selected to do the investigation and why he was immediately in constant communication with the OAG and the NCAA as he claimed he was doing a completely independent investigation.

    There is still so much to learn and this small victory is only a single step.

    Posted on January 19th, 2015 at 10:29 am

  7. Will Corbin Says:

    Great analysis! You and John Ziegler are examples of a few in the media who got it right by looking at the facts. Thank you.

    Posted on January 19th, 2015 at 10:30 am

  8. Dot Says:

    THANK YOU! A reporter that actually has done research & sees the truth.
    Let me just add or clarify:
    – the Freeh report was commissioned by the BoTs (not Penn State) to help clarify areas of possible weakness and areas for improvement. It was NOT supposed to find guilt. As we know, that didn’t happen and 99.99% took the “findings” out of context. (That’s 99.99% of the very small public that read the report. Others didn’t read it & just listened to the other uninformed talking heads & continued to spout their opinion. Bad practice to get involved in – media or not.)
    – Joe & Sue Paterno’s name is not just on the library wing. THEY DONATED THE MONEY! They also donated a spiritual center as well as fund many educational programs. So don’t tell me Joe was only about football.

    409 isn’t about wins. It’s about the Grand Experiment and Success with Honor. The haters are always going to hate hate hate hate hate. But learn the facts before you open your mouth.

    Thanks for this great article. Now if ESPN and other media would do the research on the truth, it’d help defend Success with Honor.

    Posted on January 19th, 2015 at 10:48 am

  9. Janet Kudravetz Says:

    I shared this article last night with the additional fact that it was the Penn State Board of Trustees (2011) that really started this mess by (deliberately?) making it about football and not about child acquaintance victimizers (although Sandusky had not yet been to court and got an extraordinarily fast trial (deliberately?).

    It would be great if a national source would pick this article up. Mr. Fisher gets it. Finally, someone gets it.

    Posted on January 19th, 2015 at 11:11 am

  10. Linda B Says:

    Bravo! Thank you.

    Posted on January 19th, 2015 at 11:19 am

  11. Rick Webb Says:

    Well said. Big10 isn’t off the accountability train either. Also complicit in the rush to judgment.

    Posted on January 19th, 2015 at 11:34 am

  12. Eric Fisher Says:

    Thank you to all of you for the compliments. They are greatly appreciated.
    Also, thanks for the clarification that it was the Board of Trustees that commissioned the Freeh Report. It’s a small distinction, but an important one. Sorry I wasn’t clearer on that point in my column.
    To Dot: Although I didn’t attend Penn State, I am aware that the Paternos donated their own money and raised money from others for the library. I have mentioned that in previous columns about Joe Paterno. But thank you for pointing it out.
    To Jim Rothenberger, you’re right about The Second Mile being culpable as well for letting Sandusky’s actions continue. There are many layers to this issue, including the handling of the 1998 case by the state’s child welfare unit (I’m blanking on the exact name). In 1998, Penn State’s actions were by the book.
    Please remember Jerry Sandusky’s victims and hope the whole truth about what really happened with the handling of this case eventually comes out. Thanks again for the kind words.
    Eric Fisher

    Posted on January 19th, 2015 at 1:03 pm

  13. Joe M Says:

    I apologize in advance for repeating what everyone else has said, but thank you for this great piece. You nailed it, everything I and so many others have been saying for three years. Thank you, again. I hope this post really gains some traction.

    Posted on January 19th, 2015 at 3:57 pm

  14. Michael H Says:

    Eric, kudos to you as this is probably the best article out of the hundreds I’ve read on this situation. Literally. You showed an excellent understanding of the facts of the case which of course means you saw right through all the NCAA’s and mainstream media’s BS and spin. I hope you continue to write on this general topic.

    Posted on January 19th, 2015 at 10:40 pm

  15. Eric Fisher Says:

    Thank you, Michael H. That’s high praise. To you, Joe M. and all those who have taken the time to praise the column, I’ve been writing about this topic for 3-plus years. I have consistently preached patience and warned against a rush to judgment. And, while disappointed in Joe Paterno for not doing more, I have defended him against the ludicrous criticism that has gone so far overboard there isn’t a word in the English language to adequately describe it.
    A link to two earlier columns are in bold (red or blue) within this article. You can find more columns and articles by going to the NCAA tab on the PhillyPhanatics.com home page, clicking “football” and scrolling back a bit to a spot where there are numerous links listed for this topic. For articles and radio shows related to the Penn State situation from 2011-12, click this link: http://www.phillyphanatics.com/2012/07/23/worse-than-death-penalty/.
    And thank you again to all of you.

    Posted on January 19th, 2015 at 11:51 pm

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