What the Paternos’ critique of the Freeh report didn’t do, and what it did

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Like most of you, I’m sure, I already had an idea of what the Paterno family and its accompaniment of “independent analyses” would say in its critique of the Freeh report.

The family has, in unapologetic fashion, defended Joe Paterno‘s name and legacy over the past year after he was fired from Penn State following decades of success and crucified by the court of public opinion for his actions — or inactions — in the Jerry Sandusky scandal. While the core of the Sandusky story revolves around the utter disbelief that a serial pedophile could go years preying on young boys without ever being stopped, the decision on what to make of Paterno’s role in it all has manifested into one of the most — if not the most — polarizing angles.

So when the lengthy report was released Sunday morning, I wasn’t surprised to find phrases such as “rush to injustice”, while the Freeh report was deemed a solidification of the “false public narrative about Joe Paterno.”

But false, honest, or somewhere in between, the multiple narratives about Paterno in this entire mess are as permanent as the mark he left on his former program and university. It’s been over a year since the Harrisburg Patriot-News broke the Sandusky story wide open and people’s opinions one way or the other are pretty much set. In that regard, the Paterno family’s retort to the Freeh report accomplishes nothing.

The arguments range. From Paterno’s apparent inability to comprehend sodomy “as a 72-year-old football coach who was untrained in the complicated, counterintuitive dynamics of child sexual victimization and who came from a traditional background where even consensual sex was not discussed”, to being straight-up “fooled” by Sandusky, the critique implies that Paterno was prude enough to make Ned Flanders look like a proponent of sex, drugs and rock n’ roll.

Yet, in his grand jury testimony, Paterno sounded up to speed on what happened between Sandusky and Victim 2 in 2001 when then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary walked in to the showers of the Lasch building on Penn State’s campus. McQueary then relayed what he saw to Paterno.

“He said he had something that he wanted to discuss. I said come on over to the house. He had seen a person, not an older but a mature person who was fondling or whatever you might call it.

“It was a sexual nature.”

The question is whether that understanding was the same in 2001 at the time of the conversation. The lack of documentation of any sort for that meeting has created one of the great mysteries of this story.

Even with documentation, the critique battles the theory that Paterno knew of Sandusky’s pedophilia and participated in a cover-up. One of the long-standing focal points of Paterno’s role in this story has been the email from Athletic Director Tim Curley to Vice President Gary Schultz and President Graham Spanier dated Feb. 27, 2001:

“After giving it some more thought and talking it over with Joe yesterday — I am uncomfortable with what we agreed were the next steps.”

At first glance, it would appear Paterno altered a course of action in dealing with Sandusky that originally included informing the Department of Public Welfare. The critique says that email was misrepresented, that a plan to inform proper authorities was still in place, just delayed.

Those are just two examples of many, but does that change your mind about Paterno for better or worse? It doesn’t for me. For example, the exact date and time Paterno met with Curley so as to not “ruin his weekend” to relay what he heard from McQueary doesn’t change the fact that, by the critique’s own admission on the second page, Paterno appeared to wash his hands of a situation he shouldn’t have.

(1) Joe Paterno never asked or told anyone not to investigate fully the allegations in 2001, (2) Joe Paterno never asked or told anyone, including Dr. Spanier and Messrs. Curley and Schultz, not to report the 2001 incident, and (3) Joe Paterno never asked or told anyone not to discuss or to hide in any way the information reported by Mr. McQueary.

Paterno’s involvement in any degree is a paradox. On one hand, he is not the center of the Sandusky story; rather, he is a link in a chain of key individuals who are accused of doing less than we as a society claim we would have done if placed in a similar situation. On the other hand, Paterno was not just a football coach. Few, if any, individuals in college athletics have become the face of an institution like Paterno was. To suggest that he did not have power or influence beyond the typical head coach is nothing short of naive. 

In addition to his spot atop Penn State’s chain of command, the other thing Paterno never lost was his mind. Though his body deteriorated with age, and his battle with cancer was eventually lost in early 2012, his grey matter was as sharp toward the end of his life as it was in his prime. This was universally known and witnessed.

With that power and brilliance comes accountability for what happens while you’re in charge, whether or not it’s in your area of expertise. It’s admittedly a unique situation. The Sandusky scandal is not about Paterno, yet it sort of is. The family’s response to the Freeh report mirrors that assessment even though it dismisses any sort of accountability Paterno should have had.

While the critique doesn’t do anything to persuasively change the public’s opinion about Paterno — it’s certainly not for a lack of effort — it does reasonably poke holes in the Freeh report’s strategy in coming up with its findings. Of the hundreds of people interviewed for the report, neither Curley nor Schultz, who are facing perjury charges and clearly among the most important people in this case, were. Paterno passed away early last year after a battle with lung cancer. His voice, the most important in this topic, is forever silenced.

The portion of the report written by Dick Thornburgh does a good job of dissecting the documentation used by the Freeh report to uncover holes in logic. The portion written by Jim Clemente offers compelling, psychology-based counterarguments to the perception that someone had to have known about Sandusky’s pedophilia.

The Freeh report was never entirely conclusive, and it certainly wasn’t intended to be used as a resource for the NCAA to levy punishment on Penn State’s football program, but in the end, the Paterno family’s response just doesn’t do much other than expose the Freeh’s blemishes while trying to hide Paterno’s.

The thing is, you can’t. Joe Paterno was a human being capable of doing great things for others, as well as doing wrong. He had a statue outside Beaver Stadium and a mural with, at one point, a halo painted over his head. But Paterno was not a god, nor was he a saint. The critique transparently attempts to restore Paterno’s image as such, and it’s bogus.

Paterno is just like you and me. To believe otherwise is only setting yourself up for massive disappointment.

LSU reportedly offered Duke star Zion Williamson a scholarship to play football

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We’re in the thick of the college football season and months away from March Madness, but even the most casual college sports fan who has been soaking up the action on the gridiron has mostly likely heard of Duke freshman basketball player Zion Williamson by this point.

Perhaps more appropriately, just about everybody has hopefully at least seen the potential No. 1 NBA draft pick throw down a vicious dunk or two this season and thought the 6-foot-7, 285-pounder would make for a pretty decent tight end at the next level. It turns out, those thoughts are not limited in their scope as LSU reportedly offered the hoops prodigy a football scholarship back when he was in high school

“Honestly, I just thought it would be really fun and would be good exposure for LSU if we offered him for football. Unfortunately, he didn’t seem to be too [interested],” former Tigers tight ends coach Eric Mateos told ESPN. “Coach O said go recruit the best athletes in the country, and that’s what I tried to do.

“I thought, hell, why not, he’s probably the best damn tight end to ever live.”

Mateos, who is now the offensive line coach at Texas State, apparently extended the offer in the fall of 2016 to Williamson but did so without the knowledge of head coach Ed Orgeron. 

It’s hard to find anybody in football circles who wouldn’t love to turn somebody like LeBron James into a tight end and many current or future Hall of Famers like Tony Gonzalez or Antonio Gates famously played hoops in college before making their name in the NFL.

Williamson could probably follow in all their footsteps if he wanted to but it seems like sticking to throwing down monster dunks for the Blue Devils is the better course of action at the moment.

North Texas serving up In-N-Out, energy drinks and discounted beer to lure fans for FAU game

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At the beginning of the season, many expected that North Texas hosting Florida Atlantic would serve as a potential Conference USA title game preview — just like it did a year ago. Fast forward to Thursday night however and that is far from the case for either program as both enter struggling a bit this late in the season.

The Mean Green though, are doing everything they can to lure fans to Denton for the game either way for the 8:30 p.m. CT kickoff on CBS Sports Network. And when we mean everything they can to juice the numbers, that means just about everything you can think of.

Per the Denton Register Chronicle:

The school has offered up two free guest tickets to students who already get in for free. And that’s just for starters. UNT is also giving out 700 free In-N-Out Burgers to students, free coffee and free energy drinks. Once people get inside, it’s $2 hot dogs and $3 beer and wine. UNT is also putting out heaters on the hill above Apogee Stadium, where students hang out before the game (and during the game, if we are being honest).

While it is a late kickoff on a school night in the metroplex, that’s still a lot of stops to pull out in order to get people to the stadium. It’s also interesting to note that UNT went with In-N-Out for students coming to the game and not the much more appropriate Whataburger that is much more synonymous with a meal in the state.

It still sounds like the program will set an attendance record for the season even if it’s just a normal turnout for the final home game of the year but AD Wren Baker is not one to rest on his laurels in order to hit the mark. While there are unique challenges of filling up a stadium at schools not in the same stratosphere of Michigan, Ohio State, Alabama, etc., it will still be interesting to see if this kind of practice continues to spread across college football to entice folks off their couch and into their seats.

AAC commissioner changing tune on College Football Playoff expansion

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Welcome to the dark side, Mike Aresco. It’s about time.

The AAC commissioner told ESPN this week that he’s changing his tune on expanding the College Football Playoff given recent events involving his conference and, particularly, the undefeated run UCF is on.

“The point is, I hadn’t really given a lot of thought to expansion of the playoff, but I’m giving more thought to it, only because it seems to me that if half of FBS is pretty much going to be left out of this. Then I think maybe you have to think more about it,” said Aresco. “I don’t think there’s much impetus for it now, but it might grow because also you’ve seen a couple of [Power 5] conferences left out… This year, you could have a scenario where three could be left out. It’s possible. If that’s the case, you might even see some sentiment on that side to expand it, whether you go to six and have byes or whether you go to eight.

It goes without saying that a big talking point for the AAC the past 18+ months or so has been whether or not the Knights could get into the playoff if they run the table for a second straight season. The team is currently ranked No. 11 by the Selection Committee, a mark that is the highest for a Group of Five team but far from the area where they need to be to get consideration for the final four.

Then there’s Aresco’s larger point that you could have multiple Power Five leagues also left out of the Playoff with the Pac-12 and Big 12 in particular on the outside looking in thanks to the presence of undefeated Notre Dame. Larry Scott’s league in particular could miss out for a second straight season.

Calls for an expanded playoff of either six, eight or even 16 teams have been thrown around forever and even pre-date the current system’s creation. There’s likely to be even more calls for more teams getting involved as the years go by and an actual conference commissioner starting to warm up to the idea could mark the beginning of the process — even if we’re really no closer to a bigger playoff in 2018 than we were a few years ago.

Still, talk led to action when it came to getting rid of the BCS and we may be entering the early stages of the same when it comes to the playoff being just four teams.

Les Miles, LSU settle prolonged buyout… coaching gig next for the Mad Hatter?

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Try to contain your excitement, but the grass-eating Mad Hatter could be back on the sidelines sooner than expected.

In a statement released on Thursday afternoon, LSU announced a $1.5 million settlement with former head coach Les Miles that would conclude the two parties financial relationship and close out the latter’s buyout from the school… potentially paving the way for the title-winning coach to accept another job.

“It’s time for both parties to move forward,” said Tigers athletic director Joe Alleva. “One of the challenges of the buyout that was in place was there just wasn’t a lot of incentive to move on to other things. We were looking to provide that and Coach Miles and his representatives were also ready. It was a mutually agreed upon goal and a very positive process from beginning to end.”

The news can be viewed as a win for both parties. LSU had owed Miles a hefty buyout — some $6.5 million coming into this week of a total figure of $9 million — after canning him back in 2016 that resulted in monthly payments continuing for several more years. Now, not only does the school save some $5 million as a result of the lump sum payout, the head coach himself is no longer subject to contractual terms requiring him to specifically pursue other jobs with that salary offsetting the rest of the buyout.

The timing of the move is particularly interesting given that Miles has strongly been linked to the opening at Kansas this year and might even be considered the front-runner for the position. The former LSU and Oklahoma State head coach was also rumored to be involved with other searches at Arizona, Oregon State, Ole Miss and Houston among others over the years as well.

Fully freed from his contract with LSU, Miles can now take that position with the Jayhawks without any strings or move forward with his budding broadcast and acting careers that he’s embarked on recently. It seems like several things are on the table now for one of the game’s biggest personalities and the Tigers get to save a pretty penny in the process.