College Football Overtime (cont.)
For all the buildup to Saturday's purported Game of the Century, I can tell you that few of us in the press box were talking football -- or even watching football -- in the hours before kickoff. Instead, we were trying to digest the disgusting, jaw-dropping bombshell that came out of State College, Pa., this weekend. Jerry Sandusky, a longtime revered Joe Paterno assistant, was arrested Saturday on 40 counts related to sexual abuse of minors, while athletic director Tim Curley was charged with perjury by the grand jury that investigated Sandusky.
"This is a major blemish on the reputation of Penn State University," State Sen. Jeffrey Piccola, the chairman of the state Senate Education Committee, told the Harrisburg Patriot News. "This makes recruiting violations look like small potatoes."
Piccola is absolutely correct. Penn State, which prides itself on never having committed a major NCAA violation and which uses "Success with Honor" as a motto, is involved in something infinitely more disturbing than what we normally see in the sports world. You can pour through the full allegations here (be warned: they will turn your stomach), but they boil down to this: Sandusky is painted as a sexual predator who allegedly used his position as founder of The Second Mile, a charity that provides support for at-risk children, to lure eight victims into sexual relationships, including grotesque incidents that occurred in the Nittany Lions' locker room (which he had access to even after retiring in 1999). And Penn State officials Curley and Gary Schultz, a senior vice president also indicted for perjury, are accused of failing to report knowledge of an incident to law enforcement.
Late Sunday night, following an executive session of Penn State's Board of Trustees, Curley asked to be placed on administrative leave, and Schultz stepped down.
Sandusky will face his day in court and, if found guilty, will be punished appropriately. But in the weeks to come, Penn State will face an avalanche of questions about how its overseers handled the accusations when they became aware of them. The report does not paint a favorable picture of one incident in particular.
According to prosecutors, in 2002 current receivers coach and recruiting coordinator Mike McQueary, who was then a graduate assistant, witnessed Sandusky sexually assaulting a minor in the showers of the Penn State locker room. According to the report, the shaken McQueary went to Paterno's house the next day to report what he had seen. Paterno in turn notified Curley. A week and a half later, McQueary met with Curley and Schultz and again described what he had seen. All that resulted from it, however, was that the two banned Sandusky from bringing Second Mile children to the building, a move university president Graham Spanier then approved "without any further inquiry on his part."
Attorneys for Curley (who told the grand jury that the McQueary merely reported conduct he described as "horsing around," not sexual assault) and Schultz maintained their clients' innocence Saturday and vowed to fight the perjury charges. Spanier, chairman of the BCS' Presidential Oversight Committee, issued a statement condemning Sandusky but expressing his "unconditional support" for Curley and Schultz. It shouldn't be surprising, because if the grand jury's version of events is found true, Spanier would seemingly share culpability in the matter.
But of course, the man everyone is already asking about is Paterno. The grand jury did not find the coach at fault for anything, and he will reportedly serve as a witness for the prosecution. But he will now face an avalanche of scrutiny over what he did or didn't know about his longtime assistant. In a statement released Sunday night, Paterno said: "If this is true we were all fooled, along with scores of professionals trained in such things, and we grieve for the victims and their families." He recounted the meeting with McQueary and reporting the information to Curley, but said that "at no time [McQueary] related to me the very specific actions contained in the Grand Jury report."
In our rush-to-judgment society, many are already calling for Paterno's head, blaming him for not immediately calling police about Sandusky's alleged activity and thus enabling him to abuse more victims. I would caution everyone to pump the brakes. This is not like questioning a coach's third-down call. This is real life, involving extremely serious matters about which I for one cannot even attempt to give qualified analysis. The legal process has barely begun to play out. SI's Joe Posnanski, who is currently living in State College while writing a book about Paterno, explains just how difficult it is to navigate this story.
All we know right now is this: As we approach what many already believed will be the final two months of Paterno's storied tenure, his immediate superior is on administrative leave. Curley and Spanier would be the two key decision-makers in handling a potentially messy situation if the 84-year-old decides he wants to keep coaching, and both are themselves embroiled in scandal. All the while, JoePa is chasing another Big Ten title, and we know the coach gets annoyed about having to answer questions about anything besides his team.
But this story is far bigger than a Nebraska or Ohio State game. Depending on the resolution, this scandal threatens to tarnish a sterling legacy Paterno spent 46 seasons building. But those matters seem superfluous compared to the unthinkable trauma those eight children allegedly encountered.
Each week, I'll update my projected BCS lineup (as necessary) based on the latest week's games:
Title game: LSU vs. Oklahoma State
Rose: Stanford vs. Wisconsin
Fiesta: Oklahoma vs. Boise State
Sugar: Alabama vs. Virginia Tech
Orange: Clemson vs. Cincinnati
For weeks I'd been projecting a Big Ten team for the Fiesta Bowl, but it seems increasingly unlikely the Big Ten will produce a second team with fewer than three losses. Penn State is the only one left with less than two. I'm still predicting Wisconsin to win the league, which will require it beating Penn State (which I'm also assuming will lose at Ohio State) in its finale and then winning the conference title game.
Therefore, the Fiesta Bowl uses its first at-large choice to take undefeated, top five Boise State in a five-year anniversary rematch of the Oklahoma-Boise classic. That won't leave the Sugar Bowl with many appealing options. I gave it Virginia Tech, but that only works if the Hokies win out but lose in the ACC title game. Clemson would be a more popular pick if it did the same. One result that could change this entire scenario next week: If Oregon beats Stanford, putting the Ducks in the Rose Bowl driver's seat, pushing the Cardinal to Glendale and the Broncos to New Orleans.