Are You Ready for Less Academics?

by Walter Brasch

           Fewer people know the names of the recent Nobel laureates than the starting quarterbacks for Division I college teams. To find out why, I went to Green Valley College where the regional chief accreditor, unable to find a tailgate party, was grilling the president.

           “How’s your football team doing this season?” was the first question.

           “Our football team?” asked the president.

           “Yes, your football team. The most important part of any major college.”

           “We’re 1-and-5 and very proud of our team,” said a beaming president, noting the players had the fewest penalties of any team in the conference.

           “You have a full allotment of NCAA scholarships and you’re still only 1 and 5?”

           “We diverted our athletic scholarships to academic scholarships.”

           “This is serious. I assume you’re planning to replace your coach.”

           “We hadn’t thought about it,” said the president, mystified by the inquiry. “Coach Samuels is one of the nation’s most respected environmental physicists, teaches a full load of courses, and then works out the team an hour or two in the evenings.”

           “An hour or two?” said the accreditor, mockingly. “No wonder your school has such a dismal record! Most colleges have twice-a-day drills for two or three hours at a time, and then spend the rest of the day in the weights room or watching game films. The students don’t even go to class in the Fall. Your coaching staff must be lazy not to work your athletes more.”

           “We only have two assistant coaches. One teaches sociology, the other is an anthropologist.”

           “Most colleges have a dozen coaches,” said the accreditor. “How can you not have assistant coaches for ends, backs, and nose guards?”

           “We have a good staff in our anatomy and physiology labs,” said the president, adding that with additional assistant directors in Music and Theatre, the college produces professional-class musical comedies.

           “Who cares? How many of your athletes went on to professional NFL careers?”      The president beamed, and excitedly told the accreditor about alumni who went into the creative arts, others who are leaders in social work and environmental science, and of graduates who are among the nation’s leaders in almost every field of scientific research.

           “Business!” roared the Chairman. “How many of your graduates are in high paying corporate jobs!”

           The president thought hard, but could think of only a half dozen of his recent graduates who went into corporate business, and then only because they couldn’t get any other job. “Of course,” said the president, “a few dozen of our graduates enter law and med school every year.”

           The accreditor’s face finally lit up. “Oh, so you do have wealthy alumni! Why didn’t you say so!”

           The president shook his head. “Most of our alumni lawyers are into consumer law, and our med school graduates usually become family physicians or work with the poor.”

           “Not a good sign. Not a good sign at all.” Also not a good sign was the social atmosphere on campus. “I didn’t see fraternity or sorority houses on campus. In fact, hardly anyone even knows where the nightly parties are.”

           “I guess that isn’t helping our cause for reaccreditation, is it?” asked the president. He didn’t have to ask since the accreditor was now writing furiously. “Your building fund? Any new recreation or student union buildings?”

           “We’re planning a new building to house our community service programs.” The accreditor hardly looked up he was so disgusted. “The average SAT of incoming freshmen is 1200,” blurted the sweating president. “We had two Rhodes Scholars and one Danforth fellowship last year! One of our profs just won a Pulitzer. Ninety percent of our faculty hold the doctorate!”

           “Any of them All-Americans?”

           “Our Intercollegiate Debate Team was national champion last year! The Student Social Welfare Club led the fight against conversion of apartments into condos!”

           “Redeem yourself with committees,” shouted the accreditor. “Do you have more committees than scholarships?”

           “We believe most committees are wastes of time that encourage their members to be arrogant and act irrationally.”

           The accreditor’s aide calmed him down long enough so he could ask a final question. “How much of your budget is spent on sending your administrators and faculty to phony academic conferences to schmooze and pat each other’s behinds?”

           “None,” wept the president, “our budget usually goes to improving instructional supplies to keep our students and faculty current in their fields.”

           The accreditor slammed his notebook shut and walked away. The president called after him, “When will we know whether we have been reaccredited?”

           The accreditor stopped a moment, turned around, and shouted, “When you become a real educational institution.”

           [Dr. Brasch, who admits to having once been an athlete, is a former college professor and now a sedentary journalist. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania.]

 

Corbett Tries Stealing Penn State Narrative

Gov. Tom Corbett announced yesterday he, as Governor, is suing the NCAA for its sanctions against the Penn State football program and the University.  With questionable and shaky legal standing, the suit alleges antitrust violations in the manner in which the collegiate athletic association chose to impose draconian sanctions against a program which it acknowledged did no wrong, broke no NCAA rules.

Legal experts question the Governor’s legal standing to file such a lawsuit.  Current Attorney General Linda Kelly abdicated her job and delegated to the Governor’s Office the authority to file this suit.  Why didn’t the state Attorney General just file it?  Politics.  Gov. Gasbag, watching steadily dreary poll numbers largely driven by his ill advised involvement in firing legendary coach Joe Paterno, desperately needs to reverse course, he has to initiate a cut back tot he open field before his re-election is doomed to the locker room.  

Incoming AG Kathleen Kane ran on a platform of investigating Corbett’s role in the three year investigation of Jerry Sandusky and wants to discover if he dragged his feet allowing a serial child molester to remain on the street because he didn’t want unfortunate political blowback while running for Governor.  Corbett then led the Board of Trustees decision to fire JoePa making him one of the evil tyrants in the story to Penn State football fans.  There are a few of them in the Commonwealth and the Guv stands no chance of re-election unless he does some serious damage control.  This lawsuit is driven completely by politics and not by law.  It is likely to be dismissed before November 2014 making him look even more desperate  I predict a sack for loss or worse, a blocked kick for an opposition touchdown.

Baffled, Befuddled, and Bamboozled Penn State Trustees and NCAA are Sinking

by WALTER BRASCH

When we last left the baffled and befuddled Penn State trustees, they were trying to figure out what happened in the Great NCAA Sanctimonious Sanction.

           What happened is that the NCAA bamboozled university president Dr. Rodney Erickson. The NCAA-having spent most of its history figuring out ways to make college athletics even more prominent on college campuses-suddenly found religion, created new rules, didn’t conduct an investigation, and shredded anything resembling due process. Using the Freeh Report as its newly-found Bible, NCAA president Mark Emmert piously declared he wanted Penn State to “rebuild its athletic culture,” and preached the lesson that the NCAA hoped “to make sure that the cautionary tale of athletics overwhelming core values of the institution and losing sight of why we are really participating in these activities can occur.”

           It was a neat little speech, probably written by PR people. But it couldn’t be Penn State he was referring to. Penn State athletes go to classes and graduate; its football team is often at or near the top of graduation rates for Division I football programs. The university itself, even with a well-recognized party culture, is well-known for numerous academic programs that are among the best in the country.

           Nevertheless, Emmert somberly told Erickson that the NCAA was seriously considering the death penalty for Penn State. Death, in NCAA terms, means a suspension of the sport for at least one season. The only time the NCAA had issued the death penalty was in 1987 against Southern Methodist University for blatant and repeated recruiting violations. Death to the Nittany Lions football program would significant harm the university and private business, and affect far more than the football team, not one of them having been involved in what is now known as the Penn State Sandusky Scandal.

           But, said Emmert, have we got a deal for you. If you sign on the dotted line, we won’t kill football at Penn State, we’ll just fine you $60 million, ban you from bowl games for four years, reduce the number of scholarships, vacate the 111 wins from 1998 to 2011, require you to follow everything the Freeh Report recommended, hire an athletics monitor, comply with everything we tell you, and place you on probation for five years.

           Now, every career criminal and little ole lady who accidentally shoplifts knows the police and DA aren’t serious in their first presentment of charges. They overcharge, trying to scare the defendant into a plea bargain. Plea bargains allow DAs to claim high conviction rates, while not having to get all messy with such things as jury selection and presenting evidence. So, the defendant and the DA negotiate, and a few charges are thrown out, and the defendant agrees to a lesser offense-perhaps instead of felony burglary, it becomes a misdemeanor, complete with a small fine and probation-and everyone is happy.

           Dr. Erickson, with Pigskin Proud drops of perspiration flowing freely, was so relieved his university wasn’t getting the electric chair, he agreed to whatever it was that the haughty NCAA demanded, and signed the consent decree that Penn State would never ever appeal the decision.

            Back in State College, the trustees, as is their history, were clueless and furious.

For years, they thought their only functions were to approve whatever the university president told them needed approving, raise tuition and fees, and get their friends good seats at football games. Now they faced a greater problem.

           They had previously proven they were inept in how they handled the scandal. They had previously violated state law by their secret meetings and failure to extend any semblance of due process to Coach Joe Paterno and president Graham Spanier. Then to hide their meltdown, they commissioned Louis Freeh, former FBI director, to conduct what they claimed was an independent investigation, for which the insurance company paid about $6.5 million.

           True to what the Trustees wanted, Freeh miraculously decided that the Trustees needed to reassert their power, and that the people to blame, in addition to the convicted child molester, were the former president who resigned,  a now-retired senior vice-president, a former athletic director, and the dead guy, also known as Joe Paterno. Problem solved.

            However, there are still a few problems. The first problem is that the Freeh investigation is just that-a private investigation that was not subject to even the basic rules of due process, the right of individuals to subpoena witnesses and to challenge their accusers under oath.

              The second problem is that Jerry Sandusky, convicted of an assortment of felonies, was not employed by the university or was a football coach at the time the crimes were committed. The first suspected felony in 1998 was not prosecuted by police or the DA. The second suspected felony, seen by a graduate assistant in 2002, was reported to Paterno who properly reported it to the persons in charge of athletics and the university police, as was university procedure. However, the university, apparently, chose not to report it to police or the DA. Sandusky had retired from Penn State in 1999, and had no connection to the football team.

The third problem is that Paterno and Spanier, who faced media hysteria and took the brunt of the Trustee condemnation, were never charged with having done anything illegal, nor did they ever face their accusers in court.

           Enter Ryan McCombie, a Penn State alumnus who was elected to the Board in July as a reform candidate promising to get the Board and the university to be more accountable to the people and to protect the rights of accused. McCombie isn’t some wimp in the disguise of a corporate executive. He’s a retired commanding officer of Navy Seal Team Two, and not someone to be messed with.

           One month after his election, McCombie unleashed his first shot, and it wasn’t over the bow. In a letter to the NCAA, McCombie, acknowledged the suffering of Jerry Sandusky’s victims. However, he also said that the NCAA objectives that led to the sanctions “should not be achieved by ignoring or trampling upon the fundamental rights of others. The desire for speed and decisiveness cannot justify violating the due process rights of other involved individuals or the University as a whole.”

           He charged that Erickson didn’t have the authority to enter into the agreement with the NCAA. He noted that the lack of an NCAA investigation violated NCAA established procedures, and were “excessive and unreasonable.” But his most powerful torpedo hit dead center. The conclusions and recommendations of the Freeh report, which the NCAA used to justify its moral outrage, was “based on assumptions, conjecture and misplaced characterizations that are contrary to available facts and evidence,” said McCombie.

            The Board of Trustees, in response, decided to hold a meeting Sunday night. Chair Karen Peetz, in a memo to trustees, obtained by the AP, says the Board will vote on a resolution accepting NCAA sanctions, because “it is now time to put this matter to rest and to move on.”

           The final problem is that the NCAA and most of the Penn State Trustees are still paddling in choppy seas and don’t know they have been sunk.

           [Walter Brasch is a former newspaper and magazine reporter and editor and university professor. He is the author of 17 books, the most recent of which is the critically-acclaimed novel, Before the First Snow, which looks at the American counter-culture and political corruption.]

 

Penn State Fallout

The fallout from the Freeh Report continues at Penn State.  Much of what I’ve been saying since November’s arrest of Jerry Sandusky turned out to be correct.  Being an alumnus I understand the culture of football which drove all of Happy Valley, some for the best and, as we now know, some for the worst.  While Joe Paterno did much good and elevated the University to national prominence he did so at a high cost.  The reputation of all of us who graduate dis now tainted.  Was it worth it?  History will write that chapter.

Meanwhile the NCAA is discussing imposing the “death penalty.”  Considering how much more damage this loss of institutional control cost compared with SMU it is warranted.  Southern Methodist is the only school, to date, to have its football program suspended by the NCAA.  I think it would be good for Penn State to lose football for a period so it can refocus on what matters:  academics.  Too many of those at the top lost control of the school’s real mission:  education and research.  This trickled down to students, the community, the fans and players.  More and more the football players were out of control too.  Let Beaver Stadium sit empty for a couple seasons and allow the players to transfer and retain eligibility.

Three new alleged victims have come forward saying Sandusky molested them in the 70’s and 80’s.  He was a University employee at the time.  Some experts are estimating Penn State’s legal liability at $100 million.  This was all done, as we recall, to avoid bad publicity.  That strategy didn’t work out too well for Graham Spanier, Tim Curley, Gary Schultz and Joe Paterno.

Rick Reilly of Sports Illustrated has a good column this week.

Spanier once said a sports agent threatened the reputation of PSU by buying a famed running back some clothes.  That incident only cost the agent $1000 and access to the athletes.  Too bad he never considered how his own actions might stain that reputation.

Penn State needs to regain its perspective about the mission of the University and suspending football for a time should enable that outcome.