Monday, July 23, 2012

On Integration

TigerBlog and Anthony Archbald, Princeton's affable compliance director, often have conversations about big-picture items in college athletics and ultimately figure out what each would do in each given situation.

The conversation usually wraps up with something along the lines of when Anthony and TB "run the NCAA."

One of those discussions was last week, and it involved what each would do in the current nightmare that is Penn State football were Archbald or TB in fact president of the NCAA.

TB said he would do nothing. Let the legal situation play itself out completely, and those who deserved to be punished would be.

Besides, TB thought, what good would it do to hammer Penn State now? The main culprit is going to prison forever. The one who led the cover-up is dead, and his legacy destroyed forever. The rest of those who went along with the cover-up, all in the name of protecting a football program, are in legal hot water now.

The University itself will have to pay out huge sums of money to the victims. Those who are responsible for the University's administration now seem to realize the seriousness of what happened there and what their charge is moving forward.

No current coach was part of the staff under Joe Paterno. The players themselves certainly have nothing to do with what happened.

Shutting down the program would punish the name Penn State, but it would also punish local businesses, restaurants, workers and the others who all rely on the income that bringing 100,000 people to that small Central Pennsylvania town means.

Then TB listened to Mark Emmert this morning as the NCAA president announced the penalties that in fact have been levied against the Nittany Lions, and they are severe.

They're aimed at crippling the competitiveness of the program for the foreseeable future without having the sweeping brush of shutting it all down. And they probably will work.

A $60 million fine? Huge scholarship losses? Four-year bowl ban? The ability for all current players to transfer and be eligible immediately?

Penn State is going to seriously struggle to put a quality football team on the field.

And he also came down hard on Paterno and his family (who needs to stop talking and just try to figure out a way to salvage any part of his good name possible, rather than sound like people in denial who are trying to frame him as the victim) by vacating 111 wins from 1998-2011, thereby dropped him way down the list of coaches with the most career wins.

Then Emmert spoke about the real reasons behind the sanctions.

The goal, he said, is to take a step in the direction of integrating athletic programs - especially huge football programs - more fully with, as is often said at Princeton, the overall educational mission of the institution.

And this is where it becomes really interesting.

Honestly, listening to Emmert there, TB couldn't help but realize that he was saying words that he'd heard from Princeton Director of Athletics Gary Walters almost on a daily basis for the last two decades.

Emmert talked about values, about staying true to what the core mission of an institution should be, on being integrated with the rest of the University. He talked about not allowing the football coach to become all powerful, to not allowing a coach to become the most powerful person on the campus, to accrue so much power and "hero worship" - Emmert's words - that the need to protect that status becomes all consuming.

In most cases, this leads to breaking NCAA rules to stay successful or to taking chances on athletes who probably have no business being on college campuses. In the Penn State case, it led to a 13-year (or more) cover-up of child molestation all in the name of maintaining the status quo for the football coach and University name.

After this morning, there's no question that Penn State football will be forced to achieve this integration, since every move the school makes will be scrutinized and reported to the NCAA.

TB's question is whether or not Penn State's sanctions will have the desired effect across college athletics.

Will this make a difference at Alabama, at South Carolina, at Ohio State, at Texas, at any of them? Will Emmert be able to spearhead a change in the very culture that allowed people like Joe Paterno to become so powerful in the first place?

The athletic landscape is filled with do-no-wrong, highly powerful football - and to a lesser extent  basketball - coaches. They make obscene amounts of money compared to anyone else at the school, and with the money and power comes a thirst not to let it get away.

Will the sanctions on Penn State cause anyone to think twice?

If Emmert wants real change, then rules would have to be implemented that prohibit coaches from achieving that level of power and monetary reward. Such reform would have to come from University presidents, not from the NCAA itself.

Is it possible?

Well, you can answer that question in a few weeks, when stadiums across the South and Midwest and West and everywhere else bulge with capacity crowds every Saturday who watch college football and who are the ones who pump up the coaches to the status they achieve.

You can answer that when you read a story that shows Pitt is simply writing a $7 million check to go from the Big East to the ACC.

You can answer that the next time football's largesse is justified in the name of financing the rest of the athletic department.

You can answer that the next time you see someone wearing an Auburn or Florida or Oregon sweatshirt and know that it's celebrating athletics and not academics.

In the meantime, TB will once again consider himself lucky that he works at a place that already has achieved every single broad, idealistic goal that Emmert talked about this morning.

If the tradeoff for that is empty seats in a 27,800 seat stadium, well, that's just fine with TB.

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