Friday, November 18, 2011

Penn State's football program facing even more uncertainty

Until about 4:15 p.m. EST, it appeared that the big news out of State College and Penn State University was going to be the NCAA's announcement that it will begin an investigation into how the university handled the sexual assault allegations that have rocked the area and college sports.

And then came the breaking news: Joe Paterno has lung cancer. That was the report one of his sons delivered late today, though, according to ESPN, Mr. Paterno's doctors are convinced that the 84-year-old former coach of the Nittany Lions will make a full recovery.

Before that news hit, the news of the day was the aforementioned NCAA announcement. The Chronicle of Higher Education takes a look at the NCAA's plans.
The association’s president, Mark Emmert, who in an interview last week said Penn State could face NCAA penalties, sent a letter on Thursday to the university’s interim president, Rodney A. Erickson. The letter directed the institution to submit responses by December 16 to several questions examining whether it exercised “institutional control” over its athletic department—including whether Penn State has policies in place to “monitor, prevent, and detect” the sorts of behaviors outlined in a grand-jury report this month. 
The Washington Post provides additional details on the second news item -- Penn State's plans to conduct its own investigation.
In addition to the ongoing criminal investigation of Sandusky, Penn State has started its own, internal review and the U.S. Department of Education is examining whether the school failed to report incidents of sexual abuse on campus, as required by federal law.
The lingering uncertainty of a university-led investigation combined with an NCAA-led investigation provides a potential devastating effect on the football program. Yes, it is easy (and perhaps correct) to suggest that the success of a football team is insignificant when exploring the larger questions of sexual assaults on young boys and lung cancer. However, let's acknowledge that Penn State's football program provides millions of dollars per year to the university, the State College community, the county and the state.

It seems unlikely that Penn State will be able to bring in a "name" coach. If that happens, then it's also likely that the recruits that typically would attend Penn State will go elsewhere. And one or two poor recruiting classes can quickly lead to a top-flight program sliding back to the middle of the pack (or worse) in the hyper-competitive environment that is college football.

And all of that could happen regardless if former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky is convicted of the crimes he's accused of committing. In fact, long before his innocence or guilt will be determined, the decline of Penn State's football program could be in effect. (And, yes, I hear those people who are saying that based on what is believed to have occurred at Penn State, that the football program deserves to be found in the college football commode.)

For now, we wait.

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