Sweet, sweet Saturday football.

Saturday marks the first time since 2000 the Penn State Nittany Lions will open a season away from Beaver Stadium, and I extremely fine with that, as I WILL BE IN ATTENDANCE. The Lions will be locking horns with the Syracuse Orange at MetLife Stadium in the dirty Jerz (I’ve never ridden a train to a game before…).

It has been 272 days since Penn State has played an official football game (not counting the Blue and White game, even though I showed up with my buddy at our Penn State bar in NYC, demanding they put the scrimmage on). The now very-much-revered Bill O’Brien enters his second season as head coach, and something feels very familiar… oh yes, Penn State once again does not have a specified starting quarterback.

Which young skinny boy is ready?

Will it be Christian Hackenberg (true freshman, left) or Tyler Ferguson (sophomore, right)? Neither has played a D1 game (or has even taken a snap in a D1 game) in his life, which might be O’Brien’s hesitation to throw all of his blue and white eggs in one of their proverbial baskets. But what is this, the start of the 2011 season?! Cough, Rob Bolden vs. Matt McGloin, cough. We all know how that turned out, but it was severely cringeworthy for a while. No matter what happened in 2010-2011, B.O.B. is not revealing his starting quarterback until the first offensive snap tomorrow.

Quarterback situation or not, tomorrow marks another step forward. The Jerry Sandusky scandal and NCAA sanctions still weigh heavily on the program, but a year passing makes a difference. The courage and heart of 2012’s seniors and everyone else who stayed, coupled with O’Brien’s heightened prominence has helped nudge Penn State football out from under the thick dark clouds of last year.

We Are.

 

 

Notes on a Scandal.

I have stayed silent (online) as everything connected to Penn State was coming to a head. I am still grappling with all that I feel. But I want, no need to say something. The problem is that I have so many things and groups I’d like to address – from the former and current Penn State leaders I am disappointed in and ashamed of, to the angry mob wanting only blood from Penn State instead of support for the victims, to my friends and family.

In light of the sanctions that were leveled against Penn State this morning, Monday, July 23, 2012 by NCAA officials – specifically NCAA President Mark Emmert – I want to first address the sanctions on a critical level, something befitting my sports journalism degree.

In an unprecedented power move, Emmert dropped the proverbial hammer on Penn State, including scholarship losses, a multiyear ban in postseason competition, a $60 million fine (which will thankfully go to foundations to help child sexual assault/abuse victims), and the nullification of all wins between 1998 and 2011.

Sources say the sanctions came almost solely from Emmert, who appealed to the NCAA Board of Directors to provide him power status that does not currently exist for an NCAA president.

Let me be clear – Emmert based his sanctions on emotion and public uproar, as well as his personal interpretations of the findings in the Freeh Report (Freeh’s investigation was set in motion by Penn State, not the NCAA). Emmert did not call for an NCAA investigation, there were no hearings before the Committee on Infractions or letters of inquiry, there was no discourse between the NCAA and Penn State to allow for a formal response. Most importantly, the criminal cases are ongoing, evidence is still being uncovered – but Emmert did not want to wait.

From Dan Wetzel on Yahoo Sports, “this isn’t how the Association has conducted business in decades. Toes were stepped on.”

“The man with a Ph.D in public administration just went pseudo dictator in a move right out of the playbook of Roger Goodell or Bud Selig.”

To expand on the Goodell thought, it should be noted that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell operates as the leader of a private business. Therefore he can pull those power moves. The NCAA is what you could call (and what SI.com’s Andy Staples does call) a “representative democracy”. That is, the members, consisting mainly of public universities, make the rules.

With today’s ruling and the complete lack of due process, it is no longer clear whether the NCAA is a representative democracy. To quote Staples again, “not if its executive branch has decided that the best way to punish an abuse of absolute power is by granting more absolute power.”

Stewart Mandel writes today on SI.com about the implications of the NCAA’s actions.

“Children were raped. Lives were destroyed. High-level administrators stood back and enabled the crimes. A once-revered coach betrayed his followers.

But the legacy of the Penn State scandal will no longer be Jerry Sandusky’s heinous crimes or the courageous victims who stood up to him. Thanks to a brazen power play and a carefully orchestrated p.r. extravaganza, this human tragedy will take a backseat over the next four years (or longer) to a more trivial narrative: Whether Penn State football can recover from crippling NCAA sanctions.

“Justice has been served, assuming your idea of justice for rape victims is to deprive a school of its next four Outback Bowl invitations.

“And so, Emmert made sure his organization responded accordingly — even if that meant revoking the traditional due process afforded every other school that’s ever been punished by the NCAA; invoking a nebulous, generalized bylaw about promoting integrity that could easily apply to hundreds of lawbreaking players, coaches and staffers across the country every year; and creating a precedent for dictatorial-like intervention that must now be considered every time a scandal of any proportion arises in college athletics.

Perhaps this truly is a turning point in the history of the NCAA. Perhaps this is the beginning of a new era where Batman Emmert flies in and saves the day every time the forces of athletic evil make a mockery of academic virtues.

He better. Otherwise, this will instead prove to be a crowning moment in NCAA hypocrisy.

“‘We don’t see this opening a Pandora’s box at all,’ said Emmert. ‘This was a very distinct and very unique set of circumstances.’

That’s easy to say now. Nothing in the history of NCAA scandals has come close to the level of allowing a serial pedophile free reign to a school’s football facility, and basic faith in humanity makes us inclined to believe that it will never happen again.

But there will undoubtedly be another high-profile college scandal, involving yet another unthinkable scenario, whether it’s three months from now or three years from now. And the precedent has now been set. Will Emmert send that program back to the stone ages, too? Or was this a one-time-only, made-for-TV display of power?

Monday’s one truly punitive action against one of the figures implicated in the Freeh Report was vacating Penn State’s victories from 1998-2011, thus stripping Paterno of 111 wins and demoting him from the sport’s alltime leader to 12th place. It seems fair and just, but here again, the NCAA seemingly rewrote its rulebook on the fly. Traditionally victories are vacated when schools are found to have used ineligible players. Nothing of the sort happened here.

But of course, that didn’t fit Emmert’s message.”

SB Nation adds this – “And please — please — don’t think the public zeal for specifically hurting Nittany Lion football does anything to change the perception that football is more important than everything else. Otherwise, why aren’t the prospect of jail time and/or ruined careers for all living, responsible parties to this debacle, the pending loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in civil litigation and the looming specter of punishment from the Feds not enough?

So what will these punishments accomplish? Yeah, let’s talk about that…

Giving Emmert the power to unilaterally punish Penn State is a step toward making investigations irrelevant. And I mean that in the most frightening, totalitarian sense possible. If the semblance of due process can be thrown out to conveniently hammer a cash cow program — and cripple its surrounding community and its non-revenue sports with a hefty fine — what might happen to a player on the wrong side of Emmert and the NCAA’s agenda?”

I am sure I lost many of those who belong to the angry, bloodthirsty mob, but anyone who truly cares about NCAA athletics should consider this situation critically.

On the other side of all of this is of course, my purely emotional response.

To the leaders of Penn State:

I am gravely disappointed by your leadership and its continuing to fail its community – turning blind eyes on the horrors being committed by Jerry Sandusky then, and not standing up to support all of those who were not involved with what happened now. You and your peers (especially those still sitting on the Board of Directors) are at fault, and yet the entire Penn State community will suffer (for many years) on your behalf. I am glad that at least the $60 million fine will go toward foundations to support/prevent victims of child sexual abuse, because that is at least connected to the real victims in this whole mess (those victims that so many have seem to have forgotten).

Mr. Erickson, in your official statement today you write that “the NCAA ruling holds the University accountable for the failure of those in power to protect children and insists that all areas of the University community are held to the same high standards of honesty and integrity.

It is important to know we are entering a new chapter at Penn State and making necessary changes. We must create a culture in which people are not afraid to speak up, management is not compartmentalized, all are expected to demonstrate the highest ethical standards, and the operating philosophy is open, collegial, and collaborative.”

I understand fully well that we are entering a new chapter at Penn State. What I do not understand is why the University has not stood up for those who were and are not responsible, instead of lumping us in with your lot. You call for a culture wherein people aren’t afraid to speak up, so please explain the disconnect. With a sweeping hand, you include all of us in something terrible because that is easier for you. Not making sure Sandusky was immediately held responsible for his heinous acts was (somehow) easier for you. I don’t see any evolution, and this is something I am truly distraught over as an alumnus.

I support the acceptance of the sanctions, as there is really no other course of action for Penn State. Those men can never get back what was stolen from them. End of story. But I implore you as leaders to be better. As time inevitably moves forward, strive to earn the trust of your community, and more importantly, your fellow man. At the very, very least, you owe that to every single one of the victims. Where you and your predecessors failed out of weakness, you must never do so again. We expect so much more from our leaders. As we should.

And finally, to my friends:

I woke up this morning knowing what was coming. I wore a Penn State shirt to work. I will continue to be proud of the student body, alumni, and the fact that in that small town, I met the best people I have ever known (all of you). I am proud of who we became there, are now, and will continue to be…what we all stand for, how we handle ourselves at work and in our communities (always striving to be the absolute best), and how we are extremely passionate about what we believe in.

WE (and I use this loosely to include our comrades across the world) are what made and what continues to make Penn State great. From one of my best friends and fellow alum Pat Carr, “as a Penn Stater I know who the real victims were and are. They are not football fans having to deal with a devastated football program. Penn Staters always remember who the victims are. We are remorseful. We are embarrassed but still proud.”

It is up to us to represent our alma mater with the utmost respect, professionalism and very importantly – heart. We Are.

Love you all.

Cait

Goodbye, Joe.

I have been struggling mightily as to what I want to say about Joe Paterno. He passed away due to complications from lung cancer one week ago (January 22, 2012).

Most people, I feel, are still chewing on the former coach’s role in the Jerry Sandusky horror story, the fact that Paterno didn’t go to the police when a confession of witnessing an act of child abuse was brought to his attention. I am still chewing on it myself. I am chewing on the fact that Mike McQueary, the aforementioned direct witness, did not call the police himself, passing the information to Paterno instead. I am chewing on the fact that had Paterno reported what McQueary told him to the (State College) police, Paterno would have been giving the police hearsay information. I am chewing on the fact that Paterno did report McQueary’s confession to Gary Schultz, the head of University Police, which has jurisdiction over all crimes committed on campus. I am chewing on the fact that when Schultz failed in his duty to investigate, Joe never followed up.

There are so many foggy, intertwined emotions swirling in my gut regarding Joe Paterno’s connection to his undoing as a coach. I’m not sure how long it will take for me to find a place to land, or if I ever will. But apart from these unresolved feelings, I do know that Paterno was a man who so deeply loved Penn State, and more importantly, the people who passed through it. He cared about people. He valued academics in a culture that quite often puts athletics first, and on a pedestal. He and Sue, his wife, donated over $4 million to the university, which included funding for the library on campus as well as for the erection of a non-denominational spiritual center. He was part of one of the first major college programs in the US to embrace black players, a program that fought for all of its players to be on the field in segregation-era games. He left this program with the number one academic ranking among the top 25 teams in the country in 2011, as graded by the New America Foundation (which also showed no achievement gap between black and white Penn State players – a rare feat in Division I-A football).

And he wanted all of that to be his legacy. Joe was not a hero, but Joe wasn’t a villain either. He was a human.

Goodbye, Joe.

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The Good, The Bad, The Fugly – November 16 Edition

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I’ve been silent for long enough. As a Penn State alumna, surrounded by Penn State friends all over New York City and digitally connected to many others, I’ve struggled to know what to say publicly about everything surrounding the Jerry Sandusky affair. From the bottom of my being, I have felt so sickened by everything I’ve read and come to understand about the case – from the alleged sexual abuse of minors by Jerry Sandusky to the moral failings of many of Penn State’s faculty, most notably Joe Paterno. I, along with all of my Nittany Lion closest, have been wildly ashamed, angry, confused, distraught, heartbroken.. there aren’t enough potent words. After the extremist media flurry (sound reporting was very nearly nonexistent), in which the victims and the alleged perpetrator were pushed out of the spotlight (when I started reading Facebook posts about Joe Paterno, not Jerry Sandusky, molesting young boys, I nearly lost it), I finally feel like I have regained some footing. I have a mite of perspective. This horrible time is not over, but there are some bits of light in all the darkness. If I could name one, it would be the outpouring of support by the Penn State community for RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, the nation’s largest anti-sexual assault organization. This is the kind of thing that Penn State needs to focus on. For the thousands upon thousands of us who were not involved in any way with what happened, we can do something to help educate and, more importantly, help prevent sexual assault.

THE GOOD
– In a unanimous vote, Detroit Tigers Pitcher Justin Verlander was declared the AL Cy Young Award winner on Tuesday and is in consideration for the AL MVP (which will be announced next Monday). Verlander, with an MLB-leading record of 24-5 this season, struck out 250 batters and carried an ERA of just 2.40. Verlander also tossed his second career no-hitter and was an integral part of the Tigers winning the AL Central.
THE BAD
-On Tuesday, the Associated Press was granted access to an email sent last week to an unidentified source by Penn State Wide Receivers Coach Mike McQueary (who the grand jury report identifies as the then-graduate assistant who walked in on Sandusky allegedly sodomizing a young boy in a locker room shower). In contradiction with the grand jury report, McQueary writes in the email that he made sure what was happening in the shower was stopped and also that he spoke with police about what he witnessed. Speaking to the police was never part of the original statement, which was part of what fed the public fury. Per McQueary’s testimony, he spoke with his father about what happened, then spoke with Paterno, and finally spoke with AD Tim Curley and senior VP Gary Schultz – but never went to the police. This awful story continues to get murkier.
THE FUGLY
-It’s very possible there isn’t going to be an NBA season this year. On Monday, NBA players rejected the league’s latest offer, which boils down most importantly to a 50-50 split of basketball-related income. NBA players also began disbanding the union and are reportedly preparing to file an antitrust suit against the NBA. Does it seem like anything but greedy at this point? Does anyone even care if there isn’t a season? This is a HOT mess.

Cripes, Football.

If you haven’t noticed, I am not posting about the NFL this season. This is because I am in a pool (meaning ca$h is involved) and a Fantasy League, and my inner sports journalist is grumbling about discussing my quasi gambling and competitive ventures. I am still a giant (Steelers) fan, and I still analyze Sunday play each week – I just am not going to share it in a public forum. Been meaning to get that off the proverbial chest for a while. Whew.

College football, however, is not something I am dabbling in, in that way. I am reserving analysis, public shock, and overt expressions of feelings for the Saturday young men.

I PROMISE I’ll be returning to action this weekend with a preview and recap. I was in State College for Penn State’s Homecoming win over Purdue two weeks ago, and I was in a Penn State bar with my parents for (part of) Penn State’s win last weekend over Northwestern. Excuses are like assholes – everyone’s got one. I get it. Sorry. I’ll be better.

Haggard Weekend Recap.

Whoa, it’s Wednesday. I was not on my game (my game is updating/grumbling about teams of my choosing) this weekend, so I’m going to make this quick. Everything is old news.

Penn State beat Eastern Michigan soundly, 34-6, with Joe Paterno back on the sidelines for the first half of play. The two-headed QB attack put points on the board, but Matt McGloin outshined starter Rob Bolden, going 14-17 for 220 yards and 3 TDs. Bolden finished 7-13 for 115 yards, 1 funky interception that only went about one foot out of his hand, bounced back into his chest and was then rebounded, and tossed a screen to Devon Smith that extended into a 71-yard TD pass.

The offense relied more on the pass and it seemed to work (for the first week so far – there were giggles during the halftime report that PSU had finally scored a receiving TD), but the defense tacked on a dominating performance, and they seem to be the consistent side of the ball for the Nittany Lions, who enter Big Ten play this weekend against Indiana.

Other notable games:
-Gameday was in Morgantown, but it wasn’t pretty for the #16 Mountaineers. They fell to #2 LSU 47-21
-#7 Oklahoma State edged #8 Texas A&M 30-29 with just a little help from QB Brandon Weeden’s school-record of 438 yards passing.
-Last week Clemson took down the defending national champs, this week they were ranked (#21) and slipped by #11 Florida State (still smarting from that Oklahoma loss) 35-30, giving the Tigers their first 4-0 start since 2007.
-#3 Alabama is still looking very strong, handling #14 Arkansas 38-14.

Blue and White and Cherry.

sigh.

Penn State somehow beat Temple today, 14-10. Temple led for most of the game; it was 10-7 Temple until a 1-yard TD run by PSU fullback Michael Zordich with just under three minutes to play. If what I wrote doesn’t make this immediately clear, the Nittany Lion offense continues to struggle mightily.

Penn State’s two-prong mess of a quarterback situation is still in effect. Matt McGloin looked slightly better than he did against Alabama (not a real high bar set for him that game), but Rob Bolden has better goods – it just doesn’t seem like the receivers can perform for him. At any rate, neither is getting (or deserves to get) enough reps to really settle into the rhythm of being the offensive leader. And this problem isn’t going to resolve itself, so it does not bode well for future conference games against much better defenses than that of the Temple Owls.

Aside from the offense, the Special Teams put on an absolutely offensive show. Two missed field goals. One blocked (and therefore missed) field goal. One blocked punt. I really have nothing else to say. Other than I miss Kevin Kelly.

The one positive thing I can say about the game is that the defense is looking fairly stout this season. Typical, grinding Penn State defensive play is almost expected of the Lions, but it’s a nice thing to see (when so many other things are going wrong). But for as much as the defense can do, the offense still has to put points on the board, and one of the kickers needs to figure out how to get the damn ball through the uprights because field goals count too.

OTHER NOTABLE GAMES:
-Watching unranked Clemson snap #21 Auburn’s 17-game win streak was fun. Seemingly everyone on the Clemson football team has braids. Clemson wins 38-24.

Flowing braids.

-#10 South Carolina grabbed another sloppy win, edging a surprising Navy 24-21. Navy was driving in the last minutes of the game but an interception rained on that parade.
-Notre Dame stomped on #15 Michigan State for its first win, 31-13. Turnovers abounded for both teams, but Michigan State gave it up more when it counted.
-In the battle of the scandal-ridden, Miami trounced #17 Ohio State 24-6. Miami’s QB Jacory Harris was back after his one game suspension as part of the NCAA sanctions connected to the Nevin Shapiro case. He had two touchdowns but also two interceptions and a fumble.
-In Saturday night’s prime time event, #1 Oklahoma beat #5 Florida State 23-13. The Seminoles offense was shaky (although go check out the late-game 56-yard TD pass by back-up Clint Trickett on third-and-28 that tied the game at 13), but the defense kept Florida State in it for most of the game. Oklahoma’s Landry Jones had an up and down night (18-27 for 199 yards, 1 TD and 2 interceptions in a LOUD Florida State stadium), but he connected with Kenny Stills for a tie-breaking TD in the fourth quarter, and Oklahoma’s D held on.

Blue and White and Red.

As I expected, Penn State’s dual quarterback attack (mismanaged plan) proved to be ineffective and inefficient in the Nittany Lions’ 28-11 loss to Alabama. At this point, it’s hard to say who is leading the QB battle between Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin. The two combined for a (whopping) total of 144 yards (completing 12-39 together), although for his part in that stat line, McGloin completed just 1 of 10 for no yards. Bolden did throw an interception, but he also suffered several key drops and eventually led a late scoring drive to avoid another touchdown-less loss to Alabama (see 24-3 2010 loss @ Alabama). One of the most frustrating things to watch in regards to a QB battle is that neither candidate seemed to be granted the chance to gain any momentum or settle into an offensive rhythm. There were a few series in which Bolden looked decent, more settled and closer to a real leader, but he was yanked the next series in favor of McGloin, who frankly could not do much of anything.

It wasn’t pretty, that’s for sure.

As far as the other games I called out as intriguing, Ohio State eeked out a 27-22 win in the final minute of their game against Toledo, and Michigan took it even closer to the wire, scoring in the last second to nab a 35-31 victory over Notre Dame. Auburn also succeeded in the final seconds of their match-up, stopping Mississippi State at the goal line on the final play of the game (final score 41-34). South Carolina was victorious at Georgia (45-42) with the help of sloppy Bulldogs turnovers-turned-Gamecock-touchdowns.

Blue and White.

Time to get rowdy about college football. It’s BACK, in full-swing in my world this weekend with Alabama visiting my alma mater, Penn State (I do not count last week’s throttling of Indiana State as a real game for PSU). Just a little bit nervous about this one, but the one true thing going for the Nittany Lions is that this game is in Happy Valley, and home field advantage makes a notable difference in State College, PA. The quarterback indecision at Penn State is problematic, though, as the Crimson Tide looks to have another strong season atop the rankings.

I am off to join my fellow alumni in NYC at a Penn State bar, where I can be nostalgic about the not-so-far-away past (I miss Michael Robinson and the terrifying Posluszny/Hali duo in Blue and White uniforms) and yell at a plethora of bright TVs.

Other notable games to watch for today:
-Toledo at 15 Ohio State (Toledo currently leading OSU 15-14 with a little under five minutes until halftime)
-16 Mississippi St. at Auburn (Currently tied 14-14 at the beginning of the 2nd quarter)
-12 South Carolina at Georgia (4:30 PM kick-off of SEC play for the Gamecocks who had a sloppy win last week… and they’re headed to hostile territory)
-Notre Dame at Michigan (8 PM kick-off. ND offense vs. Michigan Defense.. what kind of game can Tommy Rees put together for the Irish?)