Vice Chairman Surma announces the termination of Penn State football coach Paterno and Penn State President Spanier in State College

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.

Greg Ward Jr., to Heisman voters: ‘Psssttt, I’m still here, don’t forget’

Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr. (1) runs past Connecticut defensive lineman Folorunso Fatukasi, left, en route to a 30-yard touchdown in the first half of an NCAA college football game, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
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Deservedly so, most of the Heisman focus these first four-plus weeks of the 2016 season has been squarely on Lamar Jackson and the stunningly phenomenal season the Louisville quarterback is putting together. There are others, though, who merit mention.

Case in point? Greg Ward Jr.

In No. 6 Houston’s Thursday night 42-14 romp over UConn, the quarterback completed just over 84 percent of his passes for 389 yards and three touchdowns, and ran for 65 yards and two scores for good measure. The win was the Cougars’ eighth in a row, with the last loss coming Nov. 21 of last year to… these very same Huskies.

On at least one occasion in avenging the loss, though, Ward Jr.’s sterling completion percentage got a little help from one of his receiving friends.

The latest virtuoso performance, which included his third 300-yard passing game of the season, pushed Ward Jr. to 1,503 yards of offense (1,325 passing, 178 rushing) and 13 total touchdowns (eight passing, five rushing) in four games while also battling a lingering shoulder issue. For comparison’s sake, and you know we’re not alone in doing so, Jackson will enter Week 5 with a statistical ledger that’s straight from a teenager’s video game: 1,856 yards of total offense and a ridiculous 25 total touchdowns in his four games.

While it’s still quite a ways down the road, Ward’s Cougars and Jackson’s Cardinals will square off in what’s shaping up to be a monumental mid-November Thursday night game that could go a long way in determining not only the Heisman race, but helping to shape the playoff picture as well.  In between, voters, don’t forget about the kid from Houston.

Report: Wisconsin linebacker Vince Biegel undergoes surgery, out as long as a month

SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 30:  Sojourn Shelton #8 of the Wisconsin Badgers, Vince Biegel #47 of the Wisconsin Badgers, T.J. Edwards #53 of the Wisconsin Badgers react to a interception during the second half of a game against the USC Trojans in the National University Holiday Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium on December 30, 2015 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Just in time for their toughest stretch of the season, No. 8 Wisconsin may be without one of the team’s most important defensive players.

Badgers linebacker Vince Biegel is set to miss the next several weeks after undergoing surgery to insert a screw in his cracked foot.

“He’s been playing on it for the last couple weeks, and it was bothering him a little bit,” Biegel’s father Rocky told ESPN. “He had X-rays last night and confirmed it was cracked. He either plays on it, and then if he breaks it, then he’s going to be out for eight weeks. Either way, he’s got to have surgery on it. So he can keep playing until it breaks or try to go through the season with it and try to fix it. At any time, he could break it all the way through. It was just a crack and they’re just putting a screw in it. It’s a very, very minor crack.”

No matter how minor it is, losing Biegel for as long as a month is a huge blow to a defense that has been among the best in the country this season. Wisconsin does have a bye week after traveling to No. 4 Michigan on Saturday but also have to play No. 2 Ohio State and division rivals Iowa and Nebraska to close out October.

Biegel has nine tackles on the year and a sack but is among the most experienced players on the team having played in 46 games at Wisconsin, including 32 starts. Redshirt freshman Zack Baun is expected to take his place.

If there is one bright spot for head coach Paul Chryst and defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox however, it’s that the Badgers’ linebacking corp is one of the best in the country. Still, as good as Jack Cichy, T.J. Edwards and T.J. Watt have been this year, they’ll have to step up their games with an imposing schedule coming up.

Houston missing four starters for AAC matchup against UConn

SAN MARCOS, TX - SEPTEMBER 24: Duke Catalon #2 of the Houston Cougars runs against Brandon McDowell #6 of the Texas State Bobcats at Bobcat Stadium on September 24, 2016 in San Marcos, Texas. (Photo by Chris Covatta/Getty Images)
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Houston is looking to avenge their only loss of the 2015 season on Thursday night against Connecticut but the Cougars will have to do so a little short-handed.

According to the Houston Chronicle, the team is down a whopping four starters and a key backup against the Huskies: starting linebackers Tyus Bowser (head injury) and Matthew Adams (coaches’ decision), running back Duke Catalon (head injury), cornerback Brandon Wilson (lower leg) plus backup tight end Alex Leslie (ankle injury).

Catalon has already missed a game this season and is arguably the biggest loss for the team as that will force them to rely on quarterback Greg Ward Jr. (who missed last year’s game) even more against UConn. The transfer from Texas is averaging 4.7 yards a carry on the year and had a big game against Oklahoma in the opener.

Coach Tom Herman and the sixth-ranked Cougars still should be able handle their business at home against a conference foe but the mounting injuries this early in the season are starting to get a little concerning if you’re a Houston fan.

Alabama quarterback Blake Barnett officially withdraws from school

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 05:  Blake Barnett #6 of the Alabama Crimson Tide throws before the Advocare Classic against the Wisconsin Badgers at AT&T Stadium on September 5, 2015 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Despite the wishes of Alabama head coach Nick Saban, the Crimson Tide depth chart officially became a little thinner on Thursday.

After nearly a day of speculation, Alabama announced that quarterback Blake Barnett is no longer a part of the Crimson Tide football team.

“We received word this afternoon that Blake Barnett has officially withdrawn from school and is no longer with our program,” Saban said in a statement. “The quarterback position is a very unique position where only one player can play. We are very disappointed any time a player leaves the program who feels he can compete for a starting position elsewhere, rather than here at Alabama. We wish Blake the very best of luck in the future.”

Barnett started the opener against USC and has thrown for 219 yards and two touchdowns on the year. However the redshirt freshman lost the starting job to true freshman Jalen Hurts and has only played sparingly in the first month of the season.

Saban recently said he wanted Barnett to remain with the program but it seems pretty obvious that playing time would be limited as the team’s backup signal-caller and a transfer would be forthcoming. Now it appears the only question is where to for the former five-star recruit, who is a Southern California native and was recruited by nearly everybody coming out of high school.