All schools say their graduation rate for athletes is impressive; that is not always the case. At Penn State evidently it is. Here is what happened to the 26 recruits of 1975: 19 earned degrees; two players now in the pros could get their degrees with a few more credits; two transferred; three quit. The group had a variety of majors. Harry Glenn, a senior and former managing editor of the Daily Collegian, says, "The football players are normal students caught in this abnormal situation of big-time college football." Among the 31 Penn State pro players, 29 have undergraduate degrees. According to the 1979 Player Register, the figure for the NFL as a whole is 1,690 players, 611 degrees.
Still, there is faculty concern that, with the approaching rough-tough football opponents, there will be pressure to keep stars eligible whatever their grades. Should that happen, Penn State's academic prestige would be diminished, they point out.
Not to worry, says Paterno. One of the things he is doing is making sure the players understand the educational requirements. "It's academics, athletics and social," Joe is forever telling recruits and players. "If you do them in the order I just gave 'em to you, it will all work out."
At Penn State it probably will work out. First, there is still a well of blind faith in Paterno. Says Basketball Coach Dick Harter, "He will straighten everything out and we'll be good. Having Joe here is one of the charms of Happy Valley." Second, Paterno now appears to have gotten around the corner of self-doubt (he had been genuinely disillusioned by the booing, genuinely concerned that his old-fashioned ideals could no longer be sold to recruits) and seems to have reached back within himself for another all-out assault on mediocrity and indiscipline. Third, he has put aside any temporary doubt that the Grand Experiment is the way to go in contemporary college athletics.
"After four undefeated regular seasons and everything else," he says, "if the Grand Experiment is not a success, I don't know what is."
Suddenly Paterno is silent. Outside his home snow is falling. He stares into a cup of coffee. Finally he looks up. "O.K.," he says. "In the eyes of a lot of people, we have to win a national championship or else Joe Paterno and the Grand Experiment are both failures."
At his home in Manor Haven, N.Y., brother George speaks up for Joe. "The Grand Experiment doesn't mean you dominate," he says. "If you show courage and get killed, you still showed courage. And all this certainly doesn't mean what he's trying to do is wrong. All it means is one of the rocks in the creek slipped. Some people are born to be crusaders. Joe was. So when you go into battle, there are times you're going to get wounded. The fact that he's trying to win the right way is the most important thing. Joe is not synthetic. I'd be the most shattered person in the world if he turned out to be a phony."
At College Park, Joe Paterno mentions a note he received from another coach who had just read another laudatory article. The note said, "You're not that good." With a chuckle—oh, yes, the man can still laugh—Paterno says, "I'm not that good." Hear ye, then, that Joe Paterno is not a saint. But he'll do till one comes along.