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Mark Axelrod

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Penn State and the Illusion of Success

Posted: 07/30/2012 11:57 am

There's a lot of consternation afoot regarding the seemingly "draconian" measures the NCAA has taken against Penn State. Lots of chest-beating and hand-wringing and tear-jerking and teeth-gnashing about how these sanctions are going to ruin the future of Penn State football and how unfair they are and that the team will lose and lose and lose and no one will show up and blah, blah, blah. But let's get to root of it all. This is what they're crying about:

• A $60 million fine, with the money going to an endowment to benefit the welfare of children.
• A four-year ban on post-season play, including the Big Ten championship game, bowls or the playoffs coming in 2014.
• A reduction in the maximum allowance of scholarships offered to incoming players from 25 to 15 a year for the next four years.
• Any entering or returning player is free to transfer without restriction (such as sitting out one season). Others can maintain their scholarship at Penn State and choose not to play.
• The vacating of all victories from 1998-2011, which strips Paterno of his title as the winningest coach in college football history.

Of course, no one is really crying about the multiple cases of child rape that went unreported for years or the fact that the entire situation could have been avoided had Paterno given some thought to the children being raped as if they were one of his own or the fact that winning was so important the administration turned a blind eye to the most salacious and horrific behavior imaginable. Nope, but sanctions? Horrible travesty some may say.

But let's deal with these seemingly egregious sanctions which are supposed to ruin Penn State football from now until, well, the apocalypse. If we exclude the fine, the potential player transfers and Paterno's records (the latter two issues, as I suggest, don't have major implications in relation to winning football games) we're left with a ban on postseason play, a reduction in scholarships and a loss of victories from 1998-2011. As horrible as that may appear to those Penn State alumni, let's take a look at a football program which has suffered for decades without any of those sanctions; namely, Indiana University.

During those same years of 1998-2011, Indiana compiled a record of 55-119 with one bowl game appearance in '07 due, in large part, to the tireless work of the late Terry Hoeppner. Since 1968 (that's right, over 4 decades), IU has appeared in a total of nine bowl games including the one in '07 having lost six of them and since 1996, they're on their sixth coach having fired the one coach, Bill Mallory, who took them to six of those bowl games during his tenure from 1983-1996. Go figure. In that same period of time, Penn State went 111-65 with 10 bowl appearances winning six. In its history, Penn State has won over 700 games while Indiana has lost around 500.

I bring all this up for a few reasons not the least of which is stating the bloody obvious that there are worse things in life than losing football games and not going to bowl games. In a way, this is really a testament to all those football players who have gone to a university like Indiana that has had a losing tradition for decades and yet they still practice and play as hard as any Nittany Lion often being overmatched and undermanned. So, you see, as a diehard Hoosier fan who, luckily, was a witness to its last Big Ten football championship, I don't feel much sympathy for Penn State as a football program. They, like Indiana, will endure and continue to play and compete in the Big Ten, Eleven or Twelve, whatever it may become. The difference may be that over time Penn State may regain its national prominence and establish itself as the football power it once was and regain the integrity that everyone thought it had in the first place. In the meantime, let's give a little love to Kevin Wilson and the Hoosiers.

 
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