The ‘Penn State Way’ at the core of the Sandusky cover-up

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The Freeh report investigating Penn State’s actions related to former defensive coordinator and child molester Jerry Sandusky is 10 chapters and 162 pages long — not including numerous additional emails, notes, school policy documentation and general appendices. It took eight months to complete, 430 interviews were conducted and 3.5 million documents dating back over a decade were perused.

It took me hours to read through.

And, yes, it’s as damning and heartbreaking as speculated. Most notably, it corroborates that former head coach Joe Paterno, along with key members of Penn State’s athletic and university administration, were aware of a 1998 investigation targeting Sandusky for a shower incident with a young boy he met, like so many other victims, through his charity, the Second Mile. And that no one did anything about it because it was deemed by at least one person as “not criminal.”

“I think the matter has been appropriately investigated and I hope it is now behind us [emphasis added],” former vice president Gary Schultz wrote in a 1998 email to athletic director Tim Curley and former president Graham Spanier.

Paterno had previously denied knowing anything about the 1998 incident to the Washington Post.

But sifting through the pages of horrific accounts of inaction, something less blatant stood out on page 129.

“Certain aspects of the community culture are laudable, such as its collegiality, high standards of educational excellence and research, and respect for the environment. However, there is an over-emphasis on “The Penn State Way” as an approach to decision-making, a resistance to outside perspectives, and an excessive focus on athletics that can, if not recognized, negatively impact the University’s reputation as a progressive institution.” 

There are no exclamation points or large, flashing arrows screaming “Look at me! I’m important!” Yet a single phrase that, by itself rarely raises suspicion, can be associated with being the core reason behind why no one at Penn State said anything when Sandusky came under suspicion in ’98… why a 2001 incident involving Sandusky and Victim 2 was quashed… why the former defensive coordinator was free to use university athletic facilities to abuse even more young boys years later…

It was the Penn State Way.

For the longest time, the Penn State Way was defined as something different to people like you and me. It stood for winning with honor and integrity. It stood for graduating players and keeping your NCAA nose clean. Unfortunately, we now know it also stood for a culture of in-house dealings, exclusivity, and later, lies.

Former PSU vice president of student affairs Vicky Triponey knew about the real Penn State Way, even if it wasn’t in the same light as you and I see it today. Say what you will about Triponey and her hyperbolic “Timeline of Terror“, but she butted heads with Spanier over the culture of Penn State athletics, and now she doesn’t work there anymore.

It was a close fraternity, where things don’t change much. Paterno coached at Penn State for 45 years. Sandusky spent the better part of four decades in Happy Valley as a player and coach. Curley, a 1976 PSU graduate, and Spanier served as athletic director and president, respectively, for over 30 combined years before last November.

And, for that, I understand why there was a cover-up. There is no defense for it in this scandal, but the sentiment is more common than you might want to admit.

Especially when football rules a university and a community.

Consider if this had happened with someone you’d known closely for decades, or perhaps a well-respected boss of yours. The moral high ground in us tells us we would have done the right thing. We would have called authorities and taken the proper measures.

But is that really what each one of us would have done? Or, would you have tried to handle the matter yourself… or perhaps dismissed it altogether out of fear?

Sandusky was a legend at Penn State in his own right. A high-profile, active member of his community who, on the surface, dedicated his life to helping underprivileged young people. A noble cause — why would anyone think twice about his motives?

It was the Penn State Way.

But so was the hush-hush atmosphere within PSU’s athletic department in the late 1990’s. Sandusky wasn’t forced into retirement after the 1999 season because of his first investigation; rather, he was essentially given an ultimatum that resulted in his collaborating with Penn State and the Second Mile because the long-time defensive coordinator knew he would not be the next head coach of the Nittany Lions.

Despite the disturbing accusations against Sandusky, or how concerned university admins and Paterno might have been over the ’98 investigation, they continued to work with and protect the esteemed member of the PSU community.

It was the Penn State way.

The same goes for 2001, when former assistant Mike McQueary witnessed Sandusky in the Lasch building showers with Victim 2, and each subsequent year that Sandusky was allowed to prey on young boys while those with direct knowledge put in their earplugs, hoping naively that Sandusky had changed overnight.

Without a doubt, that kind of behavior merits the most severe punishment the law can dictate. If found guilty of criminal acts related to a cover-up, Curley, Schultz and Spanier can rot in isolated jail cells for the rest of their lives, thinking about how they chose the Penn State Way no one knew about rather than the Penn State Way that was preached to others.

Waiting for their day of reckoning will be frustrating and there’s already a desire for immediate retribution. And you know what? That feeling is completely merited. People want someone, anyone, to pay for these heinous crimes.

Tear down the Paterno statue! Burn Penn State to the ground! Shut it down! Administer the Death Penalty, NCAA!

Those are all easy ways to find immediate relief, but they don’t change what happened and have zero consequence on those directly involved in this scandal.

If Curley, Schultz and Spanier are thrown in jail — and I have little doubt they will be — what is there left to accomplish by, say, the NCAA?

The focus should be, and will be, on cleaning house and starting over. Maybe that means tearing down Paterno’s statue and removing him from the history books. Maybe it requires shutting down the football program for an unspecified period of time. That’s Penn State’s prerogative.

Just know that whatever is done now, or in the immediate future, will be overshadowed by the real solution: changing the definition of the Penn State Way. For good.

The College Football Playoff is set: No. 1 LSU, No. 2 Ohio State, No. 3 Clemson and No. 4 Oklahoma

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The 2019-2020 College Football Playoff field is set.

Thanks largely to a drama-free and fairly straightforward conference championship weekend, the CFP Selection Committee made the easy choice of the four teams who will play for this season’s national championship: SEC champion LSU at No. 1 in the Peach Bowl semifinal against No. 4 Oklahoma and recently crowned Big Ten champ Ohio State at No. 2 in the Fiesta Bowl semifinal against reigning champions and No. 3 Clemson.

“You’ve got two complete teams, obviously. They’ve both had a conference championship and when we’re comparing schedule strength, you’ve got LSU 4-0 against teams in the top 13, Ohio State 5-0 against teams in the top 21,” committee chairman Rob Mullens said on ESPN of the only debate that existed on the top seeds. “It was really close, I mean we’ve spent the entire ranking season, six weeks of just, you know, one going above the other one just by a tick.

“We saw the last couple of weeks an LSU defense that’s healthy and playing better, continued quality play out of Joe Burrow at the quarterback position so this week we just felt that LSU deserve that number one seed going into the playoffs.”

The Peach Bowl in Atlanta will kickoff first on Saturday, December 28 at 4 p.m. ET and be followed by the Fiesta Bowl at roughly 8 p.m. ET with both games broadcasted on ESPN.

Perhaps most notable regarding this year’s final four is who’s not involved as this will be the very first College Football Playoff since its inception in 2014 without Alabama and Nick Saban. Two-loss Pac-12 champion Oregon was also not involved in the discussions for postseason tournament either as the conference has missed out on the CFP for the third straight year.

This will be the Sooners’ fourth appearance and first trip to the Peach Bowl in the current setup, having posted an 0-3 mark in their previous semifinals. The Buckeyes are on their third selection, having won the first Playoff altogether while also getting shutout by Clemson in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl.

The newbie of the group? That would be Ed Orgeron’s Tigers, who are the first SEC team other than Georgia and the Crimson Tide to make it in. The site of this season’s National Championship Game is at the Superdome in New Orleans — notable since LSU’s past two titles were won there.

The Selection Committee’s full top 25 and the rest of the New Year’s Six matchups will be announced later on Sunday but for now, let the discussion over this year’s Playoff begin.

LSU No. 1 in final regular season AP Poll too, Pac-12 champ Oregon behind pair of two-loss SEC teams

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LSU is tops in both polls after being named the No. 1 team in the final regular season AP Poll on Sunday afternoon.

The Tigers edged No. 2 Ohio State, No. 3 Clemson and No. 4 Oklahoma in what is expected to be the same order of teams in this year’s final four to play for the national title.

While that was no surprise, Pac-12 fans may take an exception to voters putting No. 7 Oregon behind a pair of SEC teams with similar records in No. 5 Georgia and No. 6 Florida. Despite a title game loss, Baylor remained at No. 8 while Utah fell from No. 5 to No. 12 after falling to the Ducks. Wisconsin slipped just one place after getting beat by the Buckeyes in Indianapolis.

The full AP top 25 for the final weekend of the regular season:

  1. LSU
  2. Ohio State
  3. Clemson
  4. Oklahoma
  5. Georgia
  6. Florida
  7. Oregon
  8. Baylor
  9. Alabama
  10. Auburn
  11. Wisconsin
  12. Utah
  13. Penn State
  14. Notre Dame
  15. Memphis
  16. Minnesota
  17. Michigan
  18. Boise State
  19. Iowa
  20. Appalachian State
  21. Navy
  22. USC
  23. Cincinnati
  24. Air Force
  25. Oklahoma State

LSU edges Ohio State for No. 1 in final Coaches Poll of the regular season

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The College Football Playoff rankings matter just a bit more to both teams but in the first early indication of which way the Selection Committee might be leaning, LSU edged out Ohio State for the No. 1 spot in the final Coaches’ Poll of the regular season on Sunday.

As expected, Clemson was set at No. 3 and Big 12 champion Oklahoma occupied the No. 4 spot. SEC title game loser Georgia stayed in the top five ahead of No. 6 Oregon. While the Bulldogs fell only one spot, Utah was dropped quite a bit after losing to the Ducks on Friday and wound up down five spots to No. 10.

AAC champion Memphis were up to No. 15 as the highest ranked Group of Five team, softening the blow somewhat of losing head coach Mike Norvell on the same day. Also notable is Virginia was not penalized for getting blown out by Clemson in the ACC championship game and saying in the top 25.

The full Coaches Poll following conference championship weekend:

  1. LSU (46 first place votes)
  2. Ohio State (14)
  3. Clemson (5)
  4. Oklahoma
  5. Georgia
  6. Oregon
  7. Florida
  8. Baylor
  9. Alabama
  10. Utah
  11. Wisconsin
  12. Penn State
  13. Auburn
  14. Notre Dame
  15. Memphis
  16. Minnesota
  17. Michigan
  18. Boise State
  19. Iowa
  20. Appalachian State
  21. Navy
  22. Cincinnati
  23. USC
  24. Air Force
  25. Virginia

Get ready for the best College Football Playoff yet

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Entering its sixth season of existence, this year’s College Football Playoff may have its deepest field of playoff participants yet. Oh yes, this one is going to be good.

A system that has yielded what appeared to be a definitive two-team race the last handful of seasons with continued dominance by Alabama and Clemson, this year’s field feels as wide open as it has been under this new format. With one undefeated national champion riding a 28-game winning streak (Clemson), an undefeated SEC champion with the likely Heisman Trophy winner (LSU, with Joe Burrow), and an undefeated Big Ten champion with a trio of players that have been mentioned as worthy Heisman candidates (Ohio State), the main ingredients for a dynamic College Football Playoff are locked in. Throw in a one-loss Big 12 champion with one of the hot young names in coaching and a terrific story in the making (Oklahoma with Lincoln Riley and Jalen Hurts), what could there possibly be not to like about this year’s playoff field?

The College Football Playoff will once again have a fairly straightforward decision to make with the top four teams in this year’s playoff. There hasn’t really been much debate about which four teams have been worthy of inclusion in the playoff since its inception outside of the first season depending whom you ask (TCU and Baylor). When it has come time for the committee to make the decision they are put together to do, it’s been pretty easy. That seems to have worked out again this season with undefeated conference champions from the ACC (Clemson), Big Ten (Ohio State) and the SEC (LSU) and just one other 1-loss conference champion in the running (Oklahoma) after Utah stumbled before crossing the finish line Friday night in the Pac-12 championship game. Utah’s loss was the Big 12’s and Oklahoma’s gain once Georgia was handled by LSU in the SEC Championship Game.

Clemson is making its fifth straight appearance in the College Football. The Tigers now own the longest active streak of playoff appearances after Alabama fell short of the playoff this season. Clemson’s five appearances now ties Alabama for the most playoff appearances in the brief history o the College Football Playoff, and the pursuit of a 3rd national title in the era would give Clemson the lead in all-time College Football Playoff national titles. With offensive stars in Trevor Lawrence, Tee Higgins, and Travis Etienne, it’s difficult not to like Clemson’s chances to put some points on the board this year. That’s good because this could be the most explosive College Football Playoff yet. Ohio State (49.9 ppg), LSU (48.7 ppg), Clemson (44.3 ppg), and Oklahoma (44.3 ppg) were ranked in the top five in the nation in scoring at the close of the regular season. Defense wins championships? Not this year, it would seem.

Transfer quarterbacks are also all the rage this year, showing how valuable the transfer market can be for a team hoping to reach the College Football Playoff. Ohio State’s Justin Fields was the Big Ten’s Offensive Player of the Year in his first season after transferring from Georgia a year ago. Ironically, it is former Ohio State quarterback Joe Burrow who has been the catalyst for a playoff run at LSU. Jalen Hurts of Oklahoma is in his fourth College Football Playoff after transferring from Alabama. There is a storybook ending being scripted for any of those three right now, although Lawrence and Clemson are working on their own sequel as well.

We have yet to see a real good showing from the College Football Playoff in terms of the national semifinals. Aside from Ohio State’s upset of Alabama in 2014 and Georgia’s overtime thriller in the Rose Bowl against Oklahoma two seasons ago, the semifinals have largely been a relative bust in terms of entertainment. With this year’s field, however, that should not be the case.

So let the games begin! We should have a dandy of a College Football Playoff on our hands.