The criminal work is done in the Jerry Sandusky child sexual-abuse scandal at Penn State. Guilty on 45 of 48 counts, with sentencing to follow that should put the 68-year-old away for life.
Civil lawsuits will follow. The school knows it could be on the hook for payouts that rival a small country’s national debt.
And now that a CNN investigation has revealed emails detailing evidence of a cover-up at the highest levels — implicating coaching idol Joe Paterno and PSU President Graham Spanier — the cry is out for the NCAA to examine the Nittany Lions for penalties.
Right idea. Wrong group.
This isn’t a central matter for the NCAA. Discussions about whether Penn State football should get the death penalty aren’t truly relevant. PSU athletics gained no competitive advantage through this, and the general athletic population was unaware of the problems.
The institution that needs to consider real action against Penn State is the Big Ten Conference.
I don’t mean Commissioner Jim Delany, either. This is about the presidents of this esteemed, we-do-it-right-or-we-don’t-do-it-at-all league gathering to address what now is the biggest question of all:
Does Penn State belong in the Big Ten?
The Big Ten’s Council of Presidents voted in 1990 to “integrate Pennsylvania State University” into the conference. PSU began athletic competition in the league in 1993, making the Nittany Lions full-blown competitive members for 19 years.
Though full details aren’t available, the emails released so far and other investigations indicate Paterno and the school’s president, vice president and athletic director learned of Sandusky’s perversion as early as 1998.
In other words, for at least 74 percent of the time that Penn State has been in the Big Ten Conference, four of the most powerful figures on campus allegedly chose to focus on protecting their institution and positions of authority at the expense of children already abused — with more victims to come because of their inaction.
Is that how the Big Ten does business? And is that the kind of operation the Big Ten wants to associate itself with?
Those are brutally hard questions. But the discussion needs to happen, and at a level far beyond athletics.
The history of major schools getting kicked out of conferences is short.
In 2004, the Big East voted to oust Temple. It wasn’t for poor conduct or criminal activity.
The Owls simply were awful in football, and made little commitment to getting better after winning all of 14 league games in 14 years. (Ironically, in March, the Big East voted to restore Temple’s membership.)
The only other time I can recall a school even being rumored as a candidate for expulsion was Baylor in the Big 12, and it was only media speculation.
In 2003, the Bears went through a men’s basketball scandal under coach Dave Bliss, including the murder of a player. The football program also was 5-59 in conference play to that point.
But being bad in football plus seeing one program go rogue for a relatively short time isn’t the same as having the most powerful people on campus involved in a child-abuse cover-up for nearly 15 years.
Graham Spanier’s inaction at Penn State is particularly mortifying.
The former chancellor at Nebraska from 1991 to 1995 was a victim of physical abuse. In public appearances, he spoke of his father hitting him hard enough to break his nose several times.
Spanier’s area of educational expertise is family sociology and marriage, and he was founding editor of the Journal of Family Issues. For him to have gone deaf and blind at what was happening to families at Penn State is unforgivable.
One thing Spanier was noted for in his 16 years at Penn State was fighting for secrecy. He worked hard to keep Pennsylvania’s public colleges exempt from state open-records laws.
Now that some light finally has been shed on how Penn State’s power structure operated in a time of crisis, it’s time for the Big Ten to pull back the curtain even further and at least discuss whether that’s the kind of company it wants to keep.
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