College Sports Belongs To The Barry Switzers and Jackie Sherrills Now, Thank God
The NCAA announced sanctions against Penn State for the institutional cover-up of Jerry Sandusky’s serial pedophilia today and the lesson here is this: Making Eric Dickerson’s car payments is still considered more egregious than protecting a child rapist.
It’s pretty remarkable because the infractions of a Southern Methodist, which received the “death penalty” for paying players, result in nothing more than athletes getting paid for participating in a multimillion-dollar sporting enterprise. The cover-up led by Joe Paterno and top Penn State officials resulted in more children being raped by a depraved predator.
Deadspin’s Drew Magary did a fine job unpacking the NCAA’s inherent hypocrisy, but locally we should consider how the hypocrisy of the Big Ten/Midwestern “Win The Right Away” ethos played into the Sandusky cover-up and why, to ensure nothing like this ever happens again, Midwestern football programs need to remove the holier-than-thou blinders.
Penn State didn’t protect and enable Sandusky to win football games. They did it to preserve their football program’s “grand experiment” mythology. Unlike the programs in Texas and the SEC with unsavory boosters-run-amock reputations, Joe Paterno’s Penn State program Won The Right Way.
Paterno and company had this manufactured legacy to protect—the integrity of Penn State football. It was a lie—Penn State had their share of normal college football problems—and like all institutional lies, it requires the telling of more and bigger lies to protect the initial deceit.
So strong did Joe Paterno believe in his own righteousness that he famously said he had no interest in a pro job because he didn’t want to leave college football to the likes of Jackie Sherrill and Barry Switzer. Can you imagine if these athletic leviathans were left to men honest enough to acknowledge their job was only about winning games? Quelle horreur!
Joe Paterno's final legacy, regardless of what deluded sycophants like Phil Knight or Franco Harris believe, is that college athletics now belong to the likes of Switzer, Sherrill and guys like Steve Spurrier and Nick Sabin. That's actually for the best.
At Penn State you had Paterno and Athletic Director Tim Curley gnashing their teeth about how to "humanely" deal with poor misunderstood Jerry Sandusky.
No one can ever truly know what another soul might do in a given situation, but it’s also hard to imagine a win-at-all-costs program, say Barry Switzer’s Oklahoma, wasting money and energy protecting Sandusky when they could be using those resources to sign blue chip recruits. You can almost hear Switzer telling the media: “When we learned about the son-of-a-bitch, we called the cops immediately and put a stop to it. Then I got back to recruiting the latest Selmon progeny. Texas won’t beat themselves next year.”
This Win The Right Way lie is told at programs well beyond Happy Valley. The attitude is especially prevalent in the Midwest. Paterno along with Woody Hayes, Ara Parseghian, and Bo Schembechler knew how to Win The Right Way, the mythmakers claimed. It was an attitude that influenced entire athletic departments where equally “great men” like Bobby Knight, Jud Heathcoate, and Tom Izzo supposedly ran/run basketball programs The Right Way. It’s a false narrative.
Michigan State under George Perles found itself in trouble with the NCAA. Ohio State players under Jim Tressel traded team gear for tattoos. Even the sainted Notre Dame Fighting Irish has had recruiting scandals. And let’s not forget the fact that both Woody Hayes and Bobby Knight weren’t noble educators. They were violent, emotionally unstable men.
Even Schembechler’s Michigan, which still seems cleaner than most, was awash in booster cash and rocks for jocks Geology classes, if you believe Elwood Reid’s quasi-memoir “If I Don’t Six.”
College sports are as much a multimillion-dollar business on pastoral Midwestern campuses as at the football factories in Texas.
Extra practices and Josh Groban aside, Rich Rodriguez would still be a “Michigan Man” if he produced a string of nine-win seasons accompanied by bowl victories. And he still would have been fired even if his players grew up to operate free medical clinics in Appalachia or teach in inner city schools.
If fans, student alumni, administrators, etc. were honest with themselves they would drop this Win The Right Way façade. What’s the point? Is the enjoyment of a Saturday afternoon game really ruined because we acknowledge that education isn’t the average big-time college athlete’s first priority? Are we really offended that some booster wants to part with his money so some offensive linemen can have a sports car?
Of course not. What matters, what has always and only matters is winning. Win and don’t commit felonies. That should be college sports’ moral code.
It’s time for everyone from Michigan Stadium to Kyle Field to the Rose Bowl to acknowledge that big-time college athletics isn’t about molding young minds or advancing the ideals of the academy. It’s about winning.
And that’s ok because the Penn State scandal tells us the excesses produced by a drive to win (see the University of Miami) are far preferable to the excesses produced by pretending it’s about something other than winning.