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Buckeyes Buckeye Archive What Penn State Should Do: A Lesson of History
Written by Jesse Lamovsky

Jesse Lamovsky


Thirty years ago the University of San Francisco basketball program was one of the most consistently successful in the sport. The Dons won back-to-back National Championships in the 1950’s with Bill Russell in the pivot and in the ‘60s and ‘70s, with stars like Ollie Johnson, Phil Smith and Bill Cartwright they were the second-strongest program in the West behind John Wooden’s UCLA dynasty. They even owned the top spot in the polls during the 1977 season.

By the late ‘70s, however, as the lust for winning and for the new TV money flooding the sport grew on the Hilltop, the USF program had gone renegade. Basketball players were the privileged elite on the small Jesuit campus, where they skated by on no-show jobs, surrogates taking their tests and university officials covering for their boorish antics. Twice the NCAA slapped the Dons with probation, putting University President Fr. John Lo Schiavo on edge. Exasperated by the stench wafting from War Memorial Gymnasium, Lo Schiavo shuffled coaches in an effort to deodorize the program. It didn’t work.

Early on December 21, 1981, a USF nursing student was imprisoned in her room and sexually molested for three hours by All-American guard Quintin Dailey. The girl went to the campus police, who conducted a sluggish investigation while- according to her- insisting her attacker had to have been someone, anyone other than Dailey. A month went by before Lo Schiavo even heard about the incident. Two months went by before Dailey was formally charged in the incident.

Dailey, who later pleaded out to an aggravated assault charge, admitted while in custody to receiving payment for no-show jobs. Combined with other findings courtesy of a university investigation, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. On July 26, 1982, Fr. Lo Schiavo announced the dissolution of the program, which was coming off a 25-6 season and its fifth NCAA Tournament appearance in six years. His message, like his action, was blunt and to the point: “All the purposes of an athletic program in an educational institution are being distorted by the basketball program as it has developed.”

After three years of self-imposed exile USF resumed play in 1985-86.  The glory days died the same day in 1982 as the program- the Dons have made one Tournament appearance since they returned to the floor- but the honor of the university was restored. Basketball wasn’t worth its compromise.

Three decades later Penn State stands at the same crossroads, a university whose football program essentially doubled as a criminal conspiracy to cover up some of the most heinous crimes a human being can commit. Whether or not the NCAA will even be able to sanction the program is not clear; the NCAA has enforcement authority over its own by-laws, not criminal matters. Baylor’s basketball team wasn’t sanctioned by the NCAA because one player murdered another player, but because of other transgressions. There’s a case for invoking the nebulous “lack of institutional control” clause, but not an airtight one. As horrible as it sounds, Jerry Sandusky wasn’t violating NCAA rules by molesting boys.

It’s scary to think that Penn State might not receive any kind of sanction from this. It should be scarier for Lion fans, because such an outcome- skating by despite terrible crimes while other programs are whacked because a coach took a recruit to Applebee’s- would cement this program as a pariah for years to come. No one that cares about Penn State should want this.

We’re hearing calls for the NCAA to impose the death penalty. That won’t happen. The NCAA will probably never impose the death penalty on another program because, like the atomic bomb, its blast radius is too great. SMU has only recently begun to recover from the 1987 ban. It’s unthinkable that the Two-Aye would willingly inflict the same kind of devastation, least of all upon the gigantic cash register that is Penn State football.

Really, though, it shouldn’t be the NCAA’s responsibility to shut down this program. Penn State University should follow Fr. Schiavo’s lead and declare a moratorium on football. Not the three-year hiatus; just one, the 2012 season. The NCAA should cooperate by allowing players to transfer out of University Park- if they wish- without having to sit out the following season. With a new regime in place the program can resume play in 2013.

Obviously there’s an enormous difference in scale between San Francisco shutting down its basketball program and Penn State shutting down its football program. The economic impact upon the area- rural and without much to fall back on- would be considerable, as would the impact upon the rest of the university’s athletic department. But it can’t just be lost scholarships and bowl bans. The entire Penn State community should feel this. They allowed it to happen.

But this isn’t just self-abnegation for its own sake. Taking the initiative and accepting responsibility for the Sandusky disaster in tangible terms would do a lot more to restore the name and reputation of the program and university than a punishment imposed from without. People, including sports fans, tend to be forgiving if they’re given reason. Penn State can give people a reason to forgive by doing what no one did while Sandusky was doing what he did- taking the appropriate action. A one-year moratorium is appropriate and should do no permanent damage to the program.

For its own sake, Penn State should take this action.

After Fr. Lo Schiavo struck down the USF program, one of the high-profile figures that praised him for his tough action was Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno. “I think if you can’t control the people who refuse to understand that a school has a primary function to be an academic institution with integrity,” Paterno stated, “then athletics are not worth it, no matter how important they are.” In this case, the old man was right.

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