Penn State are still Penn State

 College Football, Football, The Bigger Picture  Comments Off on Penn State are still Penn State
Sep 102014
We are still Pennstate

In an article for SI regarding the NCAA’s decision to lift Penn State’s bowl ban and scholarship restrictions, Zac Ellis writes:

The problem was that the bowl ban and scholarship reductions didn’t affect anyone responsible for Sandusky’s actions. Those sanctions didn’t punish the likes of former Penn State president Graham Spanier, late football coach Joe Paterno, former athletic director Tim Curley and former vice president Gary Schultz, whose actions — or lack thereof — were at the heart of the scandal. What the NCAA’s decision did was take opportunities away from prospective scholarship athletes at Penn State. These are players who had nothing to do with Sandusky or the school’s administration. The NCAA forced the next Penn State regime — in this case, Bill O’Brien and his new coaching staff — into an extremely difficult situation of recruiting fewer kids into a program that couldn’t go bowling for four seasons.

Ellis is correct that the penalties levied against Penn State didn’t punish Spanier, Paterno, Curley or Schultz and did punish Penn State’s football program and future players. But punishing rule breakers (in this case the institution of Penn State football) often does have collateral and deleterious downstream effects.

"Paterno memorial". Via Wikipedia - who would point out that the NCAA had no juris-my-dicktion in this case have a point. But they’re also, in effect, saying that the football program should not have been punished at all. I have said it before and I’ll say it again, the football culture at Penn State became so big and so important that it led to the actions which caused the scandal, which led otherwise good men to look the other way while heinous acts were committed. Penn State is a fine academic institution but football should never be as big as it is there; that’s called lack of institutional control. It had to be taken down a peg.

And the folks who have bought into the myth of “Success with Honor”, who worship(ped) at the altar of Joe Paterno and all he wrought have stood screaming into the wind while the rest of us watched, disappointed and horrified. They still think of Penn State as Shangri-La. This level of fidelity, emulated at other prominent football-centric schools around the country, is sad but not unique. If the folks at Michigan or Texas or Alabama think that it couldn’t happen at their institutions, they’re wrong, so wrong. Not because they’re inferior people (we’re all Fallen) but because they are simply people.

Perhaps I’m just screaming into the wind. While it’s possible (hopeful) that the core workings of the Penn State administration have changed, I have seen nothing in the intervening years to dissuade me from believing that Penn State football isn’t still the biggest, baddest cat in town. Folks who were once just a bit chastened are now dancing in the streets, believing that their institution is fully redeemed or that the NCAA’s jealous vendetta against poor, innocent State has ended. I guess a few more years of sanctions wouldn’t have changed the culture at Penn State, any more so than sanctions have changed Ohio State, Alabama or USC in preceding years. So let the kids go bowling. #Dominate.

A Case for Sports Pain

 Basketball, College Basketball, The Bigger Picture  Comments Off on A Case for Sports Pain
Feb 132014

Or… Justifying Wednesday Night RAW

It’s probably an understatement how raw I feel at the moment. Here’s the reason. Don’t make me talk about it. In fact, I think this tweet perfectly encapsulates how most people should deal with me after a close loss:

This next tweet doesn’t describe how I feel after every loss but it most certainly applies tonight. Yes it does, yes it does, yes it does.

Anyway, I know I take sports pretty seriously. It opens me up to feeling really horrible at times. It also affords me ridiculous feelings of elation and euphoria. I’ve said that I do consider myself a pretty lucky fan overall so I’m not lamenting my current position. Too much.

Those who understand will, even if they’re on the opposite side, at least have some sympathy. However, some folks won’t/don’t/can’t understand how or why sports can bring a person so low. The best they can do is give a jagoff like me a wide berth when I’m pissed off. But they do so shaking their heads. I don’t think it’s lack of empathy. Perhaps, lack of imagination. In a way, I pity them.

Continue reading »

Jan 242014

I’m not a huge fan of playoffs (unless my team does well in them).  They’re a vastly imperfect method of determining a champion. They usually only determine the team that is playing the best, that is the hottest at that end point of the season. A balanced, season-long race should be the only way that a Champion is determined.

This is the way it’s done in world Soccer (ie, Association Football). Each team plays every other team twice throughout the season. Winner gets 3 points. Loser gets 0 points. Tie gets 1 point for each team. Add up each team’s points and you have a winner. Home-and-home. No such thing as Strength of Schedule. A true league champion.

There are separate Cup Championships (elimination tournaments or playoffs, if you will) that run concurrently through the season. When an FC Barcelona fan talks about the club’s 22 titles, that number doesn’t include Cup Championships.


This is  my definition of a true champion. I realize it will always be impossible to determine a true champion in the NFL, College Football and College Basketball.  (As well as the other college sports). There are too many teams within each league to play a round robin schedule or even one-to-one.

But the NBA, NHL and MLB could have true champions. Eliminate conferences and divisions, which are remnants of the days when travel costs weighed more heavily on teams. Have each team play the same number of games against their brethren. Everyone’s travel costs will be the same if you play each other the same number of times. 3 points for an win (or shootout win in the NHL), 0 points for a loss.

The NHL, NBA and MLB each have 30 teams. Hockey and Basketball would play a home-and-home (2 games/opponent), which gets them to 58 games. MLB would play double home-and-home (4 games/opponent), which gets them to 116 games. That’s a not-insignificant decrease in inventory so add in simultaneous elimination tournaments (Cup Championships) and you should be able to replenish the inventory sufficiently.


I know, I know. I’m tilting at windmills. Americans can’t stomach regular season champions. We crave the supposed-certainty of a playoff. We would rather be provided with certainty, with absolute rules rather than any teeny-weeny sign of ambiguity. Bollocks to that.

Sep 172013

500px-Hazard_E_no_borderRegarding the NCAA’s punishment of PSU, I recently wrote:

In PSU’s case, the NCAA jumped the gun on handing down sanctions and probably should have waited till after the trials are done. The individuals involved get punished. And then so too does the institution for creating an atmosphere that led to those actions.

Others have argued that the PSU scandal is primarily a legal matter and so the NCAA has/had no jurisdiction in the case. They should have stayed clear but they didn’t. Given the severity of the scandal, I don’t think the NCAA, corrupt or not, would have been able to withstand the public pressure to do something, anything.

Let me be clear, I think the PSU administration was corrupt. Criminally so. They covered up for a child molester. But let us separate our revulsion from the act for a minute. It was a criminal matter into which the NCAA stepped. If the NCAA sticks its nose into that criminal matter, however abhorrent, what’s to stop them from doing so in other criminal matters. I’ve made the argument that PSU’s administration did so out of self-preservation and that indicates a lack of institutional control. But I’m starting to see a very slippery slope.

Continue reading »

Sep 132013
Johnny Manziel in Kyle Field

When I was writing about the principle of punishing NCAA-member institutions for gross violations, I felt like I was just writing copy. The subject feels tired and although I got a few hits for the article, I kept thinking to myself that folks would just shrug their shoulders over Okie State and if/how much it gets punished for transgressions committed against the NCAA system.

The fact is that the NCAA reeks so much that the public doesn’t necessarily get outraged over these recruiting violations and pay-for-play scandals anymore. From Tarheel Blog:

Beyond the reporting aspect, there is a clear and palatable fatigue with the NCAA over the pursuit of these types of violations. When UNC’s scandal cropped up three years ago it, along with Ohio State shortly thereafter and USC just prior constituted the first major programs to really get serious NCAA looks in quite some time. Maybe there was some thirst for blood and despite everyone knowing the NCAA system was broken, seeing major programs run through the ringer was worth good sport and nice material. Then the Miami investigation began to play out. Initially there was public disapproval of Miami’s behavior but that opinion eventually turned when it was discovered the NCAA had engaged in below the belt tactics. Suddenly no one cared what Miami did since NCAA corruption, long simmering just beneath the surface, finally boiled over.  Overnight the NCAA truly became the villain losing whatever meager credibility it had left on the enforcement front.

I think the recent Miami scandal was really the turning point. We all knew the NCAA was corrupt beforehand but the ridiculous and underhanded tactics employed really brought it home. The NCAA succeeded in making Miami look sympathetic. The Miami Hurricanes, a program that was once so corrupt that SI ran an article calling for them to drop football. So corrupt at various times that even SEC teams looked clean in comparison. How unbelievable is that. I doubt that Miami didn’t commit those violations but if the investigating body can’t do its job cleanly, how are we trust its findings. Even the appearance of misconduct is enough to derail investigations.

Can you imagine SI running this cover article nowadays?

Can you imagine SI running this cover article nowadays?

Continue reading »

Aug 282013
PItt vs Virginia Tech, 2003

As the host of College Gameday (both football and basketball), ESPN’s Rece Davis has a front seat view for the major events in college sports. He has to control and manage the sizable egos of his co-hosts. But he has some really great insights as shown in this interview with Cardiac Hill.

On overhauling the NCAA system:

I’m like most college fans. I love the nostalgia associated with the game. I wish that simply donning the blue and gold and hearing Hail to Pitt made every player tear up and that was reward enough. For some, it is. What I can’t come to terms with is restricting athletes in ways that no one else associated with college sports or no other student on campus is restricted.

I fully realize there would be issues, probably major ones, but I think it would be more a transparent enterprise. In the long run, it would be healthier for the game.

Davis is absolutely right. Holding to the status quo does nothing to save the games from Athletic Directors and Presidents who have lost their minds and morals chasing greater and greater TV revenues. If these so-called academics cared about the principles of amateurism, they wouldn’t have expanded the calendar to 12 and sometimes 13 and 14 games. They wouldn’t relax their academic standards to such a degree that “passing the SAT” (read: 800) is an actual thing.

There has to be a middle ground between providing some compensation to players for their efforts on the field, ensuring that they truly receive an education and, well, winning.

PItt vs Virginia Tech, 2003

Pitt vs Virginia Tech, 2003

Continue reading »

Aug 132013

Johnny Manziel and athletes like him are ruining amateur athletics.

Research conducted by Joyce Julius & Associates shows that the redshirt freshman winning the prestigious trophy produced more than 1.8 million media impressions, which translates into $37 million in media exposure for Texas A&M. [Source: TAMU Times]


Johnny Manziel is a disgrace

Manziel should be ashamed of himself. The media (over)exposure and scramble for money resulting from Manziel’s historic Heisman Trophy win is corrupting the pure and righteous ideals of amateur sportsmanship that Texas A&M has already espoused. How dare Manziel play so well that he generates all that money to which Texas A&M can’t say no.

It’s pretty evident that the sports performance of unpaid student-athletes is corrupting the pristine halls of academia. Texas A&M’s move to the SEC as well as all the conference realignment chaos happened precisely because its athletes’ revenue generation abilities have caused scrupulous University Presidents to lose their minds.

Not the converse. Never the converse. It’s all the athletes’ faults.


Jul 312013

The Economist’s Democracy in America blog did a pretty good job recently of refuting Malcolm Gladwell’s analogy betwixt dog-fighting and college football. It centers largely around the idea that by the time a boy has reached an age where concussions and micro-concussions really start to take a toll, he has enough agency to make the cost-benefit analysis concerning future glories/money vs health concerns.


However, for me, DiA essentially buried the lede with a rather inane and insecure diatribe about its dislike for the sport of American Football in general:

Then there’s also the fact that American football is a stupid, tiresome sport. I will freely admit that it has taken me many decades to free my mind from the thrilling propaganda of NFL Films and see football for what it really is: hours of tedious milling-about punctuated occasionally by a few seconds of largely incoherent shoving and scrambling. When Canadians feel the need to change your game to make it less boring, there’s a problem with the game. American football is relatively unpopular internationally because it is inane, and slowly but surely doggedly provincial Americans are coming around to the superior form of football enjoyed passionately by billions around the globe.

I’m getting pretty tired that we seemingly can’t get past the point of trying to say that one sport is better than another. This is sport. American football, futbol, baseball, basketball – there are modern-day spectacles where we gather in our coliseums to watch our versions of gladiators. But it’s just sport! It’s entertainment. The need to praise one sport to the detriment of another strikes me as a very insecure and immature pursuit. It’s apples to footballs. Each sport defines prowess in different ways. The most honest attempt to rank one sport vs another will always be subjective.

Also, note to all those who love futbol and want to see it grow in the USA: don’t trash American football! Or baseball. Or basketball. Or even ice hockey. You’ll only come off as elitist and snobby. You won’t get football fans to see the beauty and grace of futbol. You won’t get them to care about outcomes concerning Liverpool or Manchester United or FC Barcelona or even the LA Galaxy.

Photo Credit: AP

Jul 242012

Yesterday when the NCAA announced its sanctions on the Pennstate football program, I watched Facebook, Twitter, article comments and other sources to gauge the reactions of Pennstaters to this apparently devastating hit to their once-proud football program.

I’m not sure I read anything from a Pennstater agreeing with the penalties. Not a one. Many said that the full story hadn’t been written, that the NCAA should have waited until the trials of Spanier, Curley & Schultz had laid out more evidence. A few continued to stress that the NCAA had no jurisdiction to sanction the football program. Some concentrated their wrath on the media for its supposed feeding frenzy. Others lashed out at the current administration for copping out to the NCAA. And so many many others simply screamed into the void, “We are [still] Pennstate!”

I have to ask, what penalties, if any, would they have accepted as fair? 2-year bowl bans, 5 scholarship reductions/year, no monetary fine? Only a monetary fine? More NCAA oversight? Or perhaps, nothing.

Surely, nothing better is going to come to light after the verdicts for Messrs Curley, Spanier and Schultz. Joe Paterno is not going to be magically exonerated. The culture of Pennstate’s all-power, all-encompassing football institution, whose power engendered this cover-up, won’t be seen in a softer light. And make no mistake about it, Pennstate football was and is an institution, not just a program.

I don’t think the public can be expected to believe Pennstate’s own proclamations that it’s reforming its culture and so should be left alone. Oh so, Curley, Spanier and Schultz are gone or placed on leave. Paterno was fired. Maybe the Board of Trustees will be the next to go. Well bully for yinz gahz.

Every measure taken that even tangentially touched the football program or the culture that Paterno fostered has been fought. Fire Paterno – riots. Take down the Paterno statue and people go nuts. Rename Paternoville to Nittanyville and Facebook explodes.  The Freeh report itself was commissioned by PSU’s own administration and many Nitters still don’t believe it, whether about Paterno or the football institution.

We (myself included) trusted Pennstate for decades that their “success with honor” motto was real and tangible; that the sanctimony, however annoying, might be earned. No more. Welcome to the club of ordinary universities, Pennstate. You don’t get the benefit of the doubt anymore.

Mar 072011

Being a fan means that we have expectations of the teams we follow, be it a professional or college team. There was once a time when we held different expectations of even our major college teams than of our professional teams.

A professional athlete, at least by definition if not by attribution, plays the game for a wage; he has on-field metrics to attain, the loftiest of which is to win a championship. I think it’s fair to hold most professional athletes to this standard. Though we may praise them for noteworthy efforts in defeat, ultimately, such outcomes are a failure.

A major college athlete, however, is still an amateur. I know that in today’s cynical world, we like to deride the corruption and avarice of major college athletics. I’ll not demure from such characterizations but I’ve known a few who played college football and I can vouch that they saw the importance of getting on with their “life’s work” (as Chuck Noll called it) faster than we, the jaded public, may give them credit. No, such individuals didn’t morph into Rhodes Scholars or lead perfect lives but they took their courses of study no less seriously than the non-athlete students who have always known they were destined for the cubicle farms of modern workaday America.

So, if we allow that the vast, vast, vast majority of college athletes are truly amateurs, then the expectations we place on them must be reasonably commensurate with that amateur status, even for major athletics programs. The lofty olden goal of the college athlete has always been to grow as a person, to use athletics as a past-time and as a means to earn a college degree and prepare for a non-football future. Winning is important, as it is in the real-world, but there were different levels of winning.

The stated goal of Michigan’s legendary head coach Bo Schembechler was to win the Big Ten title and anything that happened in the bowl game afterwards was gravy. Schembechler was 5-12 in bowl games, 2-8 in the Rose Bowl and never won a National Title. Such an absymal bowl record would probably have gotten him fired at Big Blue these days. In 1963, Pitt football compiled a 9-1 regular season record and earned the #3 poll ranking. When they were shut out of the so-called National Title game and offered to play in a lesser bowl game, the athletes declined. Because that bowl game interfered with Finals week.

As I survey major college basketball around this time every year, I hear talk about the “next level” and what type of results in the NCAA Tournament would make for a successful year. For the minnows, it’s just getting into the NCAA Tournament. But for most high-major programs, the goal is to win the National Championship and less is often considered something of a failure. There’s nothing wrong with expecting to win a National Championship. I would hardly call Duke’s program corrupt for holding to such a standard.

Coaches today will talk the same game. No less than Pitt’s Jamie Dixon has stated that winning a National Title, not just breaking in to the Final Four, is Pitt’s true goal. As a Pitt sports fan, I do love that statement. But even though the Final Four and the Elite Eight and even the Sweet Sixteen are largely ESPN-marketing driven creations,  they still serve as reasonable levies against what is otherwise our just-win-baby culture. Yet coaches successively come under fire when their programs somehow can’t get thru the Sweet Sixteen, then the Elite Eight, then the Final Four, then the National Championship. If it took the greatest college basketball coach of all-time, John Wooden, 15 years to get UCLA to a Final Four and 16 years to win a National Title, I’m ok with keeping my college sports expectations in check.