There are a lot of reasons the NCAA is in a tough spot on what to do with Penn State over its inaction over Jerry Sandusky, its tragic over-allegiance to Joe Paterno, and the perhaps criminal negligence of its administration. But I thought Rick Bozich isolated a good one in his column today -- Penn State isn't the only one making athletics bigger than life.
The following quote should be enough to show you how far this reverence for Paterno went. Read this quote about Paterno from December, 2010:
"His ‘total-person' approach to student-athletes, emphasizing academics and personal accountability is a terrific example of everything the NCAA stands for. Coach Paterno has distinguished himself to the world by his wins on the field, but he has endeared himself to thousands of student-athletes who have learned through his leadership that success in the classroom and in life is the greatest accomplishment. For me Coach Paterno is the definitive role model of what it means to be a college coach."
The speaker? NCAA president Mark Emmert. And the occasion was announcing that Paterno would be presented the one of the NCAA's highest honors: The Gerald R. Ford Award. Paterno was given a standing ovation by a roomful of academic and administrative officials that night -- something that rarely happens.
I want you to think about this. On Jan. 13, 2011, Joe Paterno was presented this award. On Jan. 12, 2011, one day earlier, he was before a Grand Jury testifying about what he'd been told about Jerry Sandusky.
In the end, I think the NCAA needs to punish what it can punish from its bylaws, and to leave aside what it can't punish from its bylaws -- because those penalties would pale in comparison to the crimes, anyway.
If ever a school needed to do without football for a season, it's this one, and if university leadership were stronger, that's what it would do. But that's not going to happen, and in the absence of that, everything else is just symbolic.
It seems too simplistic to say that a great many people, the NCAA included, were duped by a lot of things. But a great many of us were duped willingly.