According to a recent article in USA today, Penn State President Rodney Erickson and members of the current administration feel it is necessary for the University to “de-emphasize the spotlight on athletics.” Damon Sims, Penn State’s vice president of student affairs is quoted as saying; “I don’t think we need to promote ourselves as simply a football school.” Sims goes on to say; “I think we also need to understand that there’s all this other stuff that’s more important to us than football.” In that article Sims is credited with saying “it would be a “terrible mistake” to pay a new coach on a scale equal to other recent football hires.”
Erickson and his staff face the unenviable challenge of restoring the good name of the University in wake of the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal. They can do this more effectively by placing the blame properly where it belongs. To lay fault for the scandal on the back of the football program is not only wrong but risks damaging the Penn State brand further. Technically Coach Joe Paterno met his legal obligation by notifying his superiors of the abuse allegations he became aware of. Morally he probably failed in not doing more and for that failure he paid the price of losing his job, not to mention, the damage to his reputation.
Let’s not forget the ultimate responsibility rests upon the shoulders of former University president Graham Spanier and to a lesser degree Athletic Director Tim Curley. Instead of vilifying the football program why not expose the lack of judgment exercised by the University’s administration at every level during the events that culminated with the Board of Trustees definitive actions. Emphasize the steps that have been put into place to prevent a reoccurrence of such an incident and the openness with which the University has allowed the investigation to proceed.
Erickson should be reminded that in 1960 the Penn State student enrollment totaled 20,816, today it stands at 96,519. As Penn State’s football program grew in national prominence so did its student body. Is there a correlation? Many would say yes. Paterno’s “grand experiment” of linking athletic and scholastic achievement is a model that should be employed through out NCAA participating institutions. During the time some prominent “football schools” were producing more wins than graduating players, Paterno was proving you could do both. This is the Penn State brand and legacy that should remain a vital part of the school’s mission and focus.
Joe Paterno was a unique individual, accepting a moderate salary in comparison with many of his coaching peers. It will be almost impossible to find a replacement capable of approaching his success for the same amount of money Paterno was being paid. Penn State should seek to find a comparable candidate regardless of the added payroll expense such a hire will require. Erickson must build on the positives that remain instead of tearing down an institution that has meant so much to so many.