Sunday, December 21

Morning Call Op-Ed: Bud Cole: Now Is the Time to Restore JVP's Legacy

It's time to restore the respected and noteworthy legacy of Joe Paterno and the image of Pennsylvania State University.
I don't believe opinions of cynics, detractors and rival fans deserve any merit. While these naysayers sit back, point their fingers and gloat, Penn State continues to pursue high standards. Penn State graduates proudly sit atop the list of the 25 schools rated highest by job recruiters, and the football players who stayed the course despite many obstacles have become outstanding role models.
And who was held in higher esteem or respected more in college sports and higher level academics than Joe Paterno during his 60-plus years as a coach at Penn State? His football program was one of only three not to be cited for any major NCAA infractions during the 46 years he was head coach.
Paterno began his "Grand Experiment" in 1966. His goal was to build a program that excelled both in the classroom and on the field. It worked! The coach's football players repeatedly exhibited above-average academic success compared to other NCAA football programs.
Education is first at Penn State. Paterno's players had an 85 percent graduation rate, and these high academic accomplishments continue across all the PSU athletic teams. The latest graduation success rate statistics for Penn State student-athletes is 89 percent, seven percentage points above the national rate. Eight athletic teams posted rates of 100 percent.
Paterno and his wife, Sue, devoted much of their time and financial efforts to Penn State and the State College area. Their 1993 fundraising campaign amassed $13.75 million dollars for a new library. The university honored the Paternos by naming the library expansion, the Paterno Library. The Paternos donated an estimated $7.5 million to the library, for scholarships and to charitable functions. (The university received a $100,000 donation from the Paternos in December 2011, after the coach was fired.)
Unfortunately, as the tragic events of the Sandusky scandal unraveled, university trustees caved in to the media frenzy. Paterno was fired (imagine being terminated over the telephone after devoting 60-plus years to one profession, business or institution), unreasonable NCAA sanctions were accepted, and the coach's statue was removed from the front of Beaver Stadium.
Why did the NCAA become involved in a criminal situation? Yes, it was a criminal act not a football one. The NCAA's threat of the "death penalty," a complete shutdown of the football program, forced the university into accepting unprecedented sanctions.
The NCAA based the majority of its decisions on information in the Freeh Report. Three of the historic NCAA sanctions directly affected the players: nullification of all football wins between 1998 and 2011 (112 wins), four years of reduced football scholarships and a four-year bowl ban. Players were also allowed to transfer to another school and play immediately. Only seven players transferred during the lengthy period, a prime example of the players' faith in the football program and Penn State.
It's still difficult for me to understand how the appalling and tragic behavior of one former coach, no longer employed by the university had anything to do with football games played between 1998 and 2011. What was the NCAA thinking? Former players, despite having no association with the criminal behavior saw their wins erased as if the games were not played. They suffered the collateral damage from the criminal acts.
Paterno's record of 409 NCAA Division I victories dropped to under 300 with the sanctions. He was often quoted saying he had no interest in records. We do know, however, that he was totally interested in his players, their behavior, their academic progress and their future. Former players showed their support after his firing by producing a video, "The Joe We Know." The goal was to present JoePa with the video at a belated 85th birthday party. Paterno's lung cancer delayed the party and unfortunately he died Jan. 22, 2012, without seeing his players' tribute to him.
Matt Rhule, Temple University's head football coach, joined Penn State football as a walk-on player in 1994. In an interview, Rhule said he joined the team not so much to play, but to learn football from the greatest head football coach of all time. "Coach Paterno was a demanding man. He demanded the best from you. He was relentless in his pursuit of excellence, not just on the field but in the classroom and on campus," he said.
We tend to remember and respect our teachers and coaches who were demanding but fair, who were excellent role models and who set a positive example for us to follow. Joe Paterno continues to be at the top of my list.
It's time to restore his reputation and legacy. Statements in the Freeh Report continue to be discredited while the NCAA has been reducing the sanctions. Maybe the NCCA finally realizes it had no business intervening in a criminal, nonfootball incident in the first place.
Let's start the restoration by returning JoePa's statue to its rightful position in front of Beaver Stadium, and while we're at it name the football field, Joe Paterno Field at Beaver Stadium.
Bud Cole of Lehigh Township, a member of the Penn State Alumni Association, is an outdoor-travel writer and photographer

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