The stench of the child sex-abuse charges at Penn State makes it mighty difficult to focus on Big Ten football right now.
While the details of the grand jury testimony are nauseating enough, the actions of Penn State President Graham Spanier in the aftermath add to the general queasiness.
The day after perjury charges were filed against Penn State's athletic director and another administrator, Spanier issued a statement offering "unconditional support" to the two.
Since then, the A.D. has been placed on leave and the administrator has retired. Both are free on bail after surrendering their passports.
Spanier has essentially gone into hiding since the story broke. But that doesn't fit his M.O.
As a sportswriter, I've had a business relationship with Spanier for 20 years. He was Nebraska's chancellor from 1991-95 before leaving Lincoln for Penn State.
He is an outgoing and engaging man. To this day when we talk, he gigs me about requesting his phone records and staking out his travels during Nebraska's search for an athletic director to replace Bob Devaney in 1991.
Spanier, with two degrees from Iowa State and a Ph.D. from Northwestern, truly is a smart guy. And not just book smart. He seemed to have more horse sense than many policy-wonk administrators I've dealt with.
Nebraska's path into the Big Ten was smoother in part because of work by Spanier. As he told me in an August 2010 interview, "I had been centrally involved."
How much? He wouldn't offer specifics, but added: "Certainly, I had a role in it from several standpoints. I've been intimately involved in all our discussions about conference expansion."
Now, Penn State's legal team surely is advising him to keep a low profile.
But this situation screams for Spanier to step forward, especially when you learn of his area of educational expertise.
He was founding editor of the "Journal of Family Issues" and has published hundreds of articles on the topic. He is a family sociologist and a marriage and family therapist. He also is a past chairman of the Christian Children's Fund.
On Wednesday, Spanier and his wife were scheduled to be the honored guests at the Renaissance Fund dinner as people who have "contributed greatly to the Penn State and State College communities." The event, a major university fundraiser, has been postponed until next spring.
Will Spanier still be around to attend?
One of his many hobbies is as a magician. He'll need some abracadabra to survive this.
Crack NU's code?
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald on Tuesday pooh-poohed Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez's assertion that the Wildcats figured out the Huskers' sideline play-signaling system.
"If we were good enough to steal people's signals, I think we'd be a little bit better on defense," said Fitzgerald, whose team is 97th nationally in total defense.
He added, jokingly: "I know we stayed at a Country Inn and Suites the night before the game, so that gave us a huge advantage."
Actually, more generalized clues about Nebraska's offense were gleaned from film study.
Said Fitzgerald: "We were able to pick up some things on tape about them that we thought, if we could confirm on game day, we could take full advantage of. Especially Taylor."
Michigan moves on
In the final 16 seconds of Iowa's 24-16 victory over Michigan, the Wolverines fired four passes into the end zone from the 3-yard line.
The second-down pass to the back end line from Denard Robinson to Junior Hemingway was caught but ruled out of bounds. A video review didn't overturn the call.
Michigan coach Brady Hoke told beat writers Monday that his film study showed it should have been a touchdown and that he's still waiting for an explanation from the Big Ten.
On Tuesday, Hoke said the issue is dead.
"We're past that," he said. "We can think it was a catch, but there's guys who have different angles."
Stay the course
In the past two weeks, Minnesota upset Iowa 22-21 and took Michigan State to the final minute before losing 31-24. So why the turnaround for a program that started Big Ten play with losses of 58-0, 45-17 and 41-14?
Hard work, coach Jerry Kill said.
"We have kept practicing hard," he said. "We've gone good-on-good, and we've gone full pads on Tuesday and Wednesday. A lot of people won't do that.
"We've put speed-on-speed and tried to learn how to play football. We're trying to understand angles and leverage and playing hard. So we teach that."
Bits and pieces
Eight Big Ten teams have reached bowl eligibility with six wins, and Purdue and Northwestern are still in contention.
Wisconsin and Minnesota meet Saturday in the longest series in college football, 124 years.
For the first time since 1988, two true freshman quarterbacks started in the one Big Ten game (Ohio State's Braxton Miller and Indiana's Tre Roberson).
Wisconsin running back Montee Ball needs two touchdowns to tie the all-time Big Ten single-season mark of 26 now shared by Ohio State's Pete Johnson (1975), Indiana's Anthony Thompson (1988) and Penn State's Ki-Jana Carter (1994).
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