The Paterno Family’s Self-Serving Report Is Right About the NCAA


The rehabilitation of Joe Paterno’s image — which began with Joe Posnanski’s white-washing biography, Paterno — continues with Sunday’s release of a 238-page report commissioned by the Paterno family and compiled by former U.S. Attorney General Richard Thornburgh. I’ve not yet read the report and am going strictly by quotes I’ve seen from it, online and in print, and by yesterday’s TV appearances by members of the Paterno family and by Thornburgh and others who were involved in compiling it.

So far, it appears that the purpose of the Thornburgh report seems to be poke enough holes in Freeh’s conclusions to vindicate Paterno. But whatever mistakes can legitimately be found in the Freeh Report, it must be at least acknowledged that his work was the result of Penn State’s own investigation and that the university had no self-serving motive for condemning its own people, from President Graham Spanier to Paterno.

The same cannot be said, however, of the Paterno family’s investigation. In fact, Freeh’s response, which was issued Sunday, still stands unchallenged:

“Mr. Paterno was on notice for at least 13 years that Sandusky, one of his longest-serving assistants, and whose office was steps away, was a probable serial pedophile. I stand by our conclusion that four of the most powerful people at Penn State failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade.”

Let me try and put this in even plainer language. After Paterno’s assistant coach, Mike McQueary, informed Paterno in March 2002 that he had witnessed something disturbing involving Jerry Sandusky and a young boy in the football team’s showers, Joe Paterno never followed up to see if the incident was investigated by those he reported it to. And,
perhaps most damning of all, even after the incident McQueary witnessed, Sandusky continued not only to have access to the football facilities but still had an office on the Penn State campus.

The efforts of the Paterno family, aided by Richard Thornburgh, to undermine not only Freeh’s conclusion but also Freeh’s motives in compiling it are reprehensible. But one issue raised by the Paterno family, though, should be separated from the question of Joe Paterno’s reputation: the family’s belief that the $60 million fine he NCAA imposed on Penn State (as well as a four-year postseason ban and scholarship losses) is excessive and unwarranted.

It’s too bad this very important point is obscured by all the finger-pointing and heated rhetoric. The National Collegiate Athletic Association has declared itself a law-making body, one that can levy huge financial penalties on state institutions. Not merely that, but
they have assumed the right to punish a current generation for something that predated their association with Penn State by more than a decade.

The Paterno family’s opposition to the NCAA’s penalties doesn’t make the NCAA right. In fact, it’s far from clear exactly where the NCAA’s authority in this matter comes from. The NCAA began as an organization that, supposedly, would keep gambling out of college sports, and has graduated over the last two decades into a deal broker for college sports by taking control of such events as the Men’s and Women’s annual basketball tournaments.

Of course, what everyone in college sports knows is that the NCAA”s real power comes from controlling thousands of college athletes, i.e., marketing their earning power for their schools and the NCAA — jerseys, T-shirts, jackets, caps, etc — without a nickel’s worth of compensation to any athlete still in school. It is, as stated by a judge in a 1983 court ruling, “a classic cartel.”

Now the NCAA is claiming the right to step into a scandal it didn’t know about and did nothing to alleviate and shake down a major university, still reeling from the shock of that scandal, for $60 million. Penn State does not have to pay, but if they don’t the NCAA could pressure the schools on Penn States’ football, basketball and other sports’ schedules to boycott the Nittany Lions.

Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett has filed a federal antitrust lawsuit against the NCAA, but there are those in the Pennsylvania and even the national media who are asking if his actions are for his own political gain. That, too, is beside the point. Whatever his motives, Corbett is on the right side of this issue, namely to keep the NCAA from becoming a ruthless and arbitrary dictator of college sports. Well, actually, it already is that, but it has never before engaged in what amounts to multimillion dollar extortion.

More on this as it develops.


Most Popular