By John Ruberry
Last week the NCAA agreed to restore the 111 victories it forced the Penn State Nittany Lions football team to vacate as part of its penalty for covering up the child sex abuse crimes of the team’s longtime defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky. Once again Penn State’s College Hall of Fame coach, Joe Paterno, is the NCAA’s all-time winningest head coach at 409 wins.
Paterno, who died in 2012 two months after Penn State fired him, knew of two of Sandusky’s sexual assaults: a 1998 incident that led to Sandusky’s surprising (at the time) retirement the next year and Sandusky’s 2001 rape of a ten year-old boy in the showers of the football team. By then Sandusky, who received a cushy retirement package that included full access to the Nittany Lion athletic facilities, was also given emeritus status at the school.
I watched Paterno’s last victory–although no one knew that it would be so at the time–on television against Illinois, a dull and sloppy home game in the snow that Penn State won, or I should say, didn’t lose, 10-7. That 409th win was one of many landmark victories for Paterno–he passed Grambling’s Eddie Robinson to become the all-time Division 1 leader in wins. But JoePa coached his team from the press box, protected by glass from the unseasonable cold.
A similar glass wall of protection shields Paterno to this day. The public became aware of the Sandusky scandal a few days after win 409 and Paterno, along with the school president, was fired the following week. But JoePa couldn’t be fired in person, supporters had surrounded his home and Paterno got canned by way of a telephone call. Students rioted in response to JoePa’s dismissal. The next summer Penn State was hit by brutal NCAA sanctions, including a ban on bowl games for four years, drastic scholarship cuts, a $60 million fine, and the removal of those 111 wins. Those victories dated back to 1998, when Paterno became aware of a Sandusky sexual assault.
Paterno’s able successor, Bill O’Brien, left Penn State after two seasons working under those draconian sanctions. He had decried the pressure of the “Paterno people” at the college, that glass wall. O’Brien committed the sin of not being JoePa.
In 2013 some of the pulled scholarships were restored by the NCAA and last year the team’s bowl-ban was removed.
Perversely, the Penn State hockey team chose to celebrate, yes celebrate, the restoration of the Paterno wins by donning “409” stickers on their helmets for its game against Michigan State Friday night.
Paterno’s glass wall is getting stronger–and I believe there is something wrong with that. Penn State–you have a problem.
There is some good news. Penn State lost that hockey game.
John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.