Thursday, July 19, 2012

Penn State and the U of C Moment

Many people don't realize this, but it's true: the University of Chicago was one of the charter members of the Big Ten. The school was the home of the legendary coach Amos Alonzo Stagg and the Maroons won Big Ten championships and national championships, too. And the first winner of the Heisman Trophy was Jay Berwanger, who played for the Maroons. You can read a good, brief synopsis here.

In 1939, the Maroons said goodbye to all that. The president of the school, Robert Maynard Hutchins, had concluded that participation in big-time college sports wasn't compatible with the educational mission of the school and the school withdrew from the Big Ten. The U of C eventually went back to playing football, but they are now a non-scholarship Division III school. For a time they were a member of the Midwest Conference, which includes my alma mater, Beloit College.

There's a vast gulf between playing Bucky Badger to playing the Beloit Bucs. But once the U of C made the decision, they never looked back. And while you don't hear much about the Maroons on SportsCenter, no one thinks less of the University of Chicago because of it.

This brings us to Penn State. Penn State joined the Big Ten in the 1990s, mostly on the strength of two things -- the quality of its football program and the marketing advantages of having an eastern school in the league. For the better part of 20 years the Nittany Lions have been a great fit and welcome addition to the league, especially in football. Adding Penn State to the mix caused the other schools to compete even harder and it also effectively ended the "Big Two/Little Eight" dynamic that had existed for many years, with Michigan and Ohio State dominating the other schools.

Of course, now we know that Penn State had a secret and a terrible one. The Freeh report lays bare the whole sordid mess that the football program was under Joe Paterno. But how do you make it right? The Star Tribune argues that the NCAA should impose the "death penalty" on the school:

The NCAA is reviewing Freeh's report, and its top official has said a "death penalty" shutdown of the Penn State football program has not been ruled out. The NCAA will determine whether the school lost institutional control over its athletic program and violated ethics rules. Based on Sandusky's conviction and Freeh's report, that decision should be clear-cut.

Freeh concluded that Penn State's most important challenge would be to change the culture that permitted Sandusky's behavior. How can that possibly happen if the NCAA fails to levy its harshest penalty? 
I think this is wrong. Yes, the university needs to step away from the madness it has embraced. But it is precisely wrong to have the NCAA, an outside group, be an avenging angel/deus ex machina. It's especially galling because the NCAA is fundamentally corrupt in so many other ways. It hardly teaches the right lesson to turn things over to the regulators. If the school wants to atone, it shouldn't rely on an outside force to make it do so.

No, the way to fix things in Happy Valley is to look at the example of the U of C. It hasn't hurt the University of Chicago to play schools like Beloit, or Aurora, or Washington University. These are just some of the schools that the Maroons have scheduled in recent seasons. Perhaps the way out is for Penn State to play Juniata, or Franklin and Marshall, or Case Western Reserve. To regain perspective on what a university should be doing, that's the way to go. 

Is there a Robert Maynard Hutchins available in State College, PA?


Anonymous said...

Penn State does not have the academic standing that UC has. Additionally it's a large state land grant school with a distinctly different mission.

Penn State has taken a major hit because of this scandal, one that will probably have always have in impact on the schools image.

As horrible as the crimes and cover ups are, they were still the result of the acts of individuals. Paterno is dead, the president is toast, and Sandusky will soon be in prison where an internal justice system will give him the treatment that he quite frankly deserves. Additionally the victims will get huge settlements in civil lawsuits that will further damage the school's image and reduce their coffers.

If anyone remains in the Penn State system that is guilty of being involved in the cover up, they too should be removed and possibly prosecuted. Killing the program, or suggesting that the school drop to a D3 status is quite frankly absured, at least that is my opinion. I can't believe that Mr D is serious about this.

Mr. D said...

Killing the program, or suggesting that the school drop to a D3 status is quite frankly absured, at least that is my opinion. I can't believe that Mr D is serious about this.

I'd certainly prefer the school voluntarily taking a step back than having the equally corrupt NCAA drop the hammer on it. The point I'm making isn't necessarily about D3 sports; more I'm saying that if the school really wants to change its ways, it needs to make the commitment to doing it proactively, rather than waiting for a tribunal to change it for them.