Penn State trustees address painful decision to dismiss Paterno

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For the first time since firing the legendary Joe Paterno Nov. 9, Penn State’s Board of Trustees will meet Friday to continue the business of running a university still shaken by the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.

Ahead of that meeting, and in the wake of extensive criticism of how the 32-member board has handled the unprecedented scandal, a baker’s dozen trustees sat down with the New York Times to discuss the “painful decision” to dismiss Paterno as well as the tumultuous days after Sandusky’s indictment in early November.

As it relates to Paterno, the consensus among the trustees who spoke to the Times for up to three hours earlier this week is that there were three reasons for their decision to dismiss a man who was Nittany Lions football:

  • …his failure to do more when told about the suspected sexual assault in 2002
    Then-grad assistant Mike McQueary allegedly witnessed Sandusky sodomizing a 10-year-old boy in the Lasch Football Building and, after phoning his father, took, out of respect for Paterno, a “water-down version” of what he had witnessed to the head coach.  In turn, Paterno turned the information over to then-athletic director Tim Curleyand another high-ranking university official.  That was the end of Paterno’s action in the incident.”I didn’t know exactly how to handle it and I was afraid to do something that might jeopardize what the university procedure was,” Paterno told the Washington Post in his first sit-down interview late last week. “So I backed away and turned it over to some other people, people I thought would have a little more expertise than I did. It didn’t work out that way.”
  • …what they regarded as his questioning of the board’s authority in the days after Sandusky’s arrest
    Some trustees, per the Times article, viewed as insensitive Paterno leading “We are Penn State” cheers with a throng of students who had gathered at his house in a show of support in the wake of the Sandusky indictment.
  • …and what they determined to be his inability to effectively continue coaching in the face of continuing questions surrounding the program.
    Following a town hall meeting last week in which acting PSU president Rodney Erickson was the target of intense criticism for how Paterno was fired, the board’s chairman released a statement addressing “the Board’s unanimous judgment… that Coach Paterno could not be expected to continue to effectively perform his duties and that it was in the best interests of the University to make an immediate change in his status.”

The overriding factor in the board’s decision to fire Paterno, though, appears to come down to the coach doing the bare minimum as required by law upon hearing in 2002 his former assistant had been alone in a football building shower with a 10-year-old boy, and that something of a sexual nature had occurred at the hands of an alleged pedophile.

“To me, it wasn’t about guilt or innocence in a legal sense,” trustee Kenneth C. Frazier explained to the Times regarding Paterno’s decision not to go to police. “It was about these norms of society that I’m talking about: that every adult has a responsibility for every other child in our community. And that we have a responsibility not to do the minimum, the legal requirement. We have a responsibility for ensuring that we can take every effort that’s within our power not only to prevent further harm to that child, but to every other child.”

And therein lies the central issue when it comes to Paterno specifically: moral responsibility versus what’s required legally.  In the eyes of the law, Paterno appears to be free and clear of any repercussions criminally.

Morally?  “I wish I had done more,” Paterno said in a statement announcing his retirement at season’s end shortly before his firing.  In a statement released by Paterno’s attorney to the Times Wednesday, Wick Sollers again reiterated that Paterno followed school policy in handling the situation.

“After learning of the alleged incident in 2002, Joe Paterno reported it immediately and fully to his superiors at the university. He believed these officials, who had the authority and responsibility to conduct investigations, would act appropriately. He did what he thought was right with the information he had at the time. Blaming Joe Paterno for the failure of administration officials and the board to properly investigate Jerry Sandusky is unjustified.”

Of course, Paterno wasn’t the only high-ranking university official to see his job status changed by the events of the past two-plus months.  Curley was placed on self-imposed administrative leave while vice president for finance and business Gary Schultz “retired”, with both facing perjury and failure to report abuse charges stemming from the Sandusky scandal.  Graham Spanier was fired from his long-time post as president, and it’s he who appears to be the target of the most trustee angst and ire.

Spanier and other Penn State officials, including Paterno and Curley, testified in front of a grand jury in late 2010/early 2011.  The school’s board was only apprised of the situation once by Spanier, a brief 5-10 minute discussion in May.  “[The board was] disappointed that Spanier, who was legally allowed to speak about his grand jury testimony, did not brief the board on the nature of the questions by the grand jury about the 2002 episode,” the Times wrote.

“He should have told us a lot more,” trustee Ira Lubert said of Spanier. “He should have let us know much more of the background. He was able to legally share his testimony and I think that he had an obligation to do that with the board so we could get more engaged with the problem.”

The trustees who spoke with the Times also addressed an inexplicable statement of unconditional support for Curley and Schultz released by Spanier shortly after the two were charged, accusing Spanier of altering the language of the statement the board claimed was meant to convey the university’s intention to conduct a complete and independent investigation into the allegations.  Instead, as an inferno of a scandal was growing with each passing hour, what was put out there for public consumption was a statement of “complete confidence” in two employees under felony indictment.

The decision to fire Spanier was made before the decision to fire Paterno, the trustees confirmed to the paper.  The trustees also acknowledged that Spanier offered his resignation, which was not accepted by the board so that the body could deal with the issue of his continued employment itself.

SEC leads NFL Draft for 11th straight year as Alabama and Michigan set school records

Brandon Wade/AP Images for NFLPA
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The 2017 NFL Draft has come and gone, and once again it is the SEC claiming another NFL Draft national championship. A grand total of 53 players from the SEC were drafted by NFL teams. It is the 11th straight year the SEC has had the most players drafted by NFL teams.

The ACC ended the draft with 42 players drafted, followed by the Pac-12 (36) and Big Ten (35). The Big 12 ended the draft with just 14 players drafted.

Helping to contribute to the SEC’s NFL Draft total was Alabama setting a school record with 10 players drafted.

Alabama’s nine players drafted in the first 80 picks was also a new Alabama record.

Michigan ended up having more players drafted than any other Big Ten team, slipping past Ohio State by the time the draft closed up shop this year. For the Wolverines, 11 players ended up being drafted. The previous school record for draft picks was 10, set in 1972 and tied in 1974. Head coach Jim Harbaugh will get plenty of the praise for developing that many players getting a chance to be drafted, but Brady Hoke should be recognized for recruiting those players as well (and blamed for not developing the talent he brought in).

 

Air Force changes rules for football players with NFL aspirations

AP Photo/The Colorado Springs Gazette, Michael Ciaglo
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One of the top players from Air Force was ineligible to be drafted by the NFL this weekend, and it had nothing to do with NFL rules. It also had nothing to do with NFL teams backing away from a particular player due to off-field concerns. Instead, a policy at Air Force is what is to blame for wide receiver Jalen Robinette not moving on to the NFL at this time.

The U.S. Air Force will not approve requests from academy graduates to defer their two years of active duty in order to be allowed to play professional football. Just a year ago, the Department of Defense changed the policy to allow for the possibility, which made it possible for Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds to be allowed to play. Reynolds later joined the Baltimore Ravens. Reynolds had received a recommendation to be allowed to play by the U.S. Naval Academy.

“The Air Force notified academy leaders [Thursday] that the service would not approve requests to waiver active duty military commitments for cadet athletes,” a statement from Air Force read. “Cadets will be required to serve two years active duty prior to entering Ready Reserve, which would allow their participation in professional sports. The Air Force places tremendous value on our cadet athletes and their contributions to the nation as we continue to build leaders of character, engage in combat operations overseas and continue to ensure our highest military readiness at home.”

Because of the policy change and confirmation, Robinette was not able to be drafted. He may still have been a long shot to be drafted by an NFL Team, but the policy also means he is unable to be signed as an undrafted free agent as well.

Rawleigh Williams carted off at Arkansas scrimmage

AP Photo/Chris Brashers
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Any time a player that has previously undergone neck surgery goes down on the field and needs to be carted off is quite the scary moment. On Saturday, the Arkansas football program had that exact scare when Rawleigh Williams went down on the field in pain and ended up having to be carted off the practice field during the Arkansas scrimmage.

Williams was placed on a stretcher and taken out of the facility on a cart to receive medical attention. His legs and arms were moving on the ground, a slight sigh of relief given the hit and his injury history. In 2015, Williams was carted off and had to undergo surgery on his neck. Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema said the injury concern on Saturday was apparently not related to the previous neck injury, which was expected to have a full recovery.

It is an unfortunate ending to the spring for Williams, because all indications seemed to be he was certainly improving running the football. Bielema said earlier in the week Williams was running with more patience, which is always a key for a running back.

Arkansas moved its final scrimmage of the spring indoors due to bad weather rolling through the area.

Justin Herbert shines in first Oregon spring game under Willie Taggart

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A glimpse of a brand new era of Oregon football took center stage in Eugene, Oregon on Saturday as the spring football season drew to a close. Willie Taggart showed fans a little bit of what to expect from Oregon in the fall as the program looks to bounce back from a down season under the coach who has shown a knack for improving programs. As is usually the case in a spring game, Oregon’s quarterback situation was under a microscope, and sophomore Justin Herbert took advantage of the opportunity.

Herbert completed 16 of 26 passes for 327 yards and established a connection with wide receiver Darren Carrington. The two connected for three touchdowns in the game. Sophomore Travis Jonson and early enrollee Braxton Burmeister also saw playing time in the game, but Carrington was confident in saying this is Herbert’s job to lose.

”Our chemistry has definitely improved this spring, and it’ll improve more by the time fall comes, but Herbert, I mean, that’s the guy right now to beat,” Carrington said after the spring game.

As for the team as a whole, Taggert knows there is much still to address as a new system and style are implemented and the roster adjusts physically to the demands of the new coach.

‘We’re still building. We’re nowhere where we need to be as a football team yet. We have some good players. We don’t have a lot of depth that we need to have, that’s going to be a work in progress,” Taggart said. ”The thing for us as coaches is just to make our guys better than they were before. If I guy wasn’t good enough we want to make him look better than he was before. If I guy was good we want to make him great.”

Og course, it wouldn’t be an Oregon spring game without having that typical Oregon uniform flair. Even with a new head coach and with the talk suggesting the Ducks will go for a more traditional approach to uniforms in the fall, the spring game was used for some sizzle on the unis.

Oregon’s spring game crowd of 36,821 assured the Ducks of having the highest spring game attendance among Pac-12 school for a third consecutive year.