In a recent interview, alumni elected Penn State trustee Anthony Lubrano called the NCAA collectively a bully, and followed with, “the only way to deal with a bully is head on.” Lubrano is incontrovertibly correct, and he summed up what I have been thinking ever since President Rod Erickson and the Penn State Board of Trustees capitulated to the NCAA’s draconian sanctions.
No fight at all? Erickson and those trustees who support him, an overwhelming majority of the 32-member board, have continued to fall back on the excuse that the alternative to the NCAA sanctions would have been much worse, that the offer of the sanctions was non-negotiable, and that the best thing for the university was to take its lumps and move forward in order to get the Sandusky mess behind us and live for a better day ahead.
But it’s liable to get worse before it gets better. How much worse is anybody’s guess. For it is an uneasy peace when one chooses to appease a bully.
Ask Neville Chamberlain’s ghost. The British Prime Minister thought that it was necessary to appease Hitler to achieve “peace in our time.” At the Munich Conference of 1938, Chamberlain traded part of Czechoslovakia for a promise that the Germans and Brits would go away happy and European life would return to normal with the major threat having been appeased. But a bully will always be a bully. Hitler ignored the non-aggression pact, invading Poland and starting World War II.
If there’s a lesson to be gleaned from this historical snippet it’s that when one shows weakness to a bully, he better have eyes in the back of his head, for there will always be threats lurking in the shadows. Other bullies tend to take notice that there’s a weakling who is ripe for the taking and won’t offer much resistance. A show of bluster is all that is needed to get him to give up his lunch money. If there’s any resistance, give him a black eye and take the money. He won’t fight back.
And so it appears that Penn State has unwittingly, masochistically invited others besides the NCAA to come take its lunch money — lots of it.
Immediately following NCAA President Mark Emmert’s announcement of sanctions against Penn State, the Big Ten Conference jumped into the fray, augmenting the football program’s woes by imposing additional sanctions. Then, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, the academic accreditation body, declared Penn State “in jeopardy” of losing its accreditation. Lurking in the shadows are the Clery Act investigation by the US Department of Education, perhaps dozens of civil lawsuits from Sandusky’s victims and their families, perjury trials for Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, potential felony prosecution of former President Graham Spanier, and who knows what else? It is easy to be paranoid when the knives continue to rain down. And through it all, the media have been slamming Penn State — because it’s easy.
Accepting the NCAA sanctions without a peep also validated the conclusions of the Freeh report, which Emmert used as the basis for his “deal”. Instead of conducting a proper, NCAA-led investigation, Emmert and his henchmen chose to wave the Freeh report at Erickson to see if he’d cave in. Throw in a couple of threats of rocks thrown through the windows of Old Main, killing off the football program, and assorted other sundry imperilments, and here’s the deal: take it or leave it. An offer you can’t refuse. And by the way, no leaks. Keep your mouth shut. Omerta. Or else!
That opened the door to everyone else to use the strong language of the Freeh report to support their cases against Penn State, against which they could conclude they would receive little resistance.
Of course, it is the NCAA, not a single university, that is culpable for transforming academic institutions into football factories. The opportunity was ripe for the NCAA to make Penn State a target in order to take the bulls-eye off their own backs. The NCAA must discipline member schools regularly for this reason. We’ll see how unhypocritical they are with the way they handle UNC, but let me not digress.
That Erickson and his good ole boys and girls on the board chose to accept the Freeh report’s conclusions without question is another facilitating factor for the bullies out there. Of course the BoT paid big bucks for the former FBI director’s report, reportedly $6.5 million, so why question it? It was bought and paid for, a ready excuse not to pursue any issues related to its findings. By virtue of the ivory tower’s acceptance of not only the report, but also the bullies’ use of it to justify their punishments, it has essentially become a declaration of guilt: we did it, we did it all, and we’ll pay the price to atone for it, amen.
However, several interested bystanders who have chosen to ignore the machinations in Old Main have found significant flaws in the Freeh report. Its description of the supposedly corrupt football culture at Penn State is certainly subjective, yet it is the cornerstone for the NCAA’s and others’ case against the university. How can a climate in which academic issues had repeatedly caused suspensions of big-name players be described as deficient academically? How could a top football program with a top of the heap graduation rate be described as corrupt. Those Freeh report words appear to be the cart that drags the horse: as if Freeh conducted the investigation with the object being to prove the notion of a corrupt football culture, instead of deriving that from his findings.
Does the board have something to hide? Why are they not questioning these flaws in the Freeh report? Is there a bigger scandal they’re attempting to keep buried beneath the troubled turf of this one? Better that we find out about it sooner than later, before the bullies snatch more lunch money.
It will come out in the wash. It cannot be be swept under the rug. Thanks to inquisitive, cynical trustees like Lubrano, Joel Myers, and Ryan McCombie, along with former Penn State players, the Paterno family, and investigative reporters such as Sara Ganim, the truth will eventually be revealed. When it does, a lot of people in higher places than Old Main will get hurt. But history has shown that the lust for power leads to serious risk taking to cling to power.
Meanwhile, the board will keep trying to back itself into a corner, ostensibly maintaining a “laser focus” on the future. The bullies will keep on bullying, and the sheep will continue to graze while maintaining their laser focus. Don’t be surprised if one day that damn laser starts focusing on them.