We Are…More than Football

Today the NCAA delivered unprecedented sanctions against Penn State University’s football program.  I am sure most people already have an opinion on that and if you are interested you can find a myriad of articles on the sanctions.  My take has to do with the sanctions as they relate to the academic environment and the student activities at Penn State.

The implication in the sanctions is that Penn State University cares about football too much.  It almost seems like this is what Penn State is being punished for, since those who committed and covered up the crimes are either in jail or dead.  The one question that is not asked is that if all Penn State ever cared about was football, how come Penn State consistently has the highest graduation rates in the country for its football team?

Just this past year Penn State football was rated #1 in the Academic Bowl.  The article is from last December, so right after the scandal broke and before we had the information we have today, and one paragraph reads:

But the ironic news is that the team that topped the list is Penn State, whose football program, coached by the legendary Joe Paterno, was rocked by a sex-abuse scandal. According to the analysis, Penn State graduates 80% of its football players in six years or less and also shows no achievement gap between its black and white players, which NAF says is extremely rare for Division I football teams. (At LSU, by comparison, the team’s black players are 32% less likely to graduate than their white counterparts.) Winning the top honors in the academic bowl further proves the success of Paterno’s “grand experiment,” his idea that major-college athletes could contend for national championships while excelling in the classroom.

Clearly people in high levels at Penn State dropped the ball and made tremendous mistakes in judgment.  Yet they are all gone now.  Some of the sanctions are good, such as the fine that will put millions of dollars in a fund to help victims of abuse.  This is a good thing. The sanctions also include an “athletic integrity” monitor watching over the program.  Because having the top graduation rates is not good enough?

It almost seems like, with all those responsible in jail or dead, that Penn State is being punished for caring about football too much.  During the press conference, Mark Emmert, the head of the NCAA actually said, “If you find yourself in a place where the athletic culture is taking precedence over academic culture, then a variety of bad things can occur.”  If Penn State is guilty on this count, then based on being consistently among the top schools in graduation rates,  we might as well just not have college football altogether in this country.

Note too, Penn State can still have their games on television.  The NCAA is not going to stop profiting from TV money.  The NCAA cares about football enough to still make boatloads of profit.

The sanctions punish the wrong people was a statement I heard a lot today.  But usually the “wrong people” were current players and coaches who had nothing to do with the scandal (the NCAA always punishes the wrong people, look at the USC case, same thing).  When I think of the wrong people though, I think of people far beyond those in the football program.

I think of all the other sports whose budgets are paid for in large part by football revenue.  How will this affect hockey or swimming or lacrosse?  I also think of the students in Christian Student Fellowship.  We run a concession stand at every Penn State home game.  Over the course of the year, CSF makes about $5,000 which goes towards all sorts of ministry on campus.  Numerous other student groups also make a good chunk of money running concessions which they to use for their clubs’ purposes.  These sanctions may end up hurting campus ministries as well as other clubs on campus.

It makes me sad that so many children were hurt by a gruesome monster.

It also makes me sad that because of a few people, the university I know and love, for dozens of reasons other then football, has its reputation tarnished.

A friend of mine wrote the follow on Facebook but I could not find a reliable source for it.  But it does demonstrate that Penn State is much more than just a football school, so I post it without fact-checking every claim mostly because the list of notable alumni from Penn State is too long (more after the quote):

“Lately, I’ve seen many outraged users claiming that because of this scandal, they will boycott Penn State and anything associated with it. In light of this, I’ve compiled a handy list of things to steer clear of if you want to avoid any trace of Penn State:
-Don’t use Mac computers. The man who started the Macintosh project got his computer science degree at PSU.
-Don’t watch the Olympic Games if you hate Penn State – they have 16 athletes and coaches competing in London this year!
-Skip vaccinating against cervical cancer – the vaccine was developed with research by Penn State’s College of Medicine.
-No need to buy accurately-labeled foods because the legislation demanding safe, labeled foods was based on PSU’s research.
-If you have a heart attack, refuse a heart pump. It was invented at Penn State.
-Demand the removal of the world’s most accurate clock because Penn State physicists helped improve it. Sure the clock is integral to global communications, satellite navigation and surveying, and computerized financial transactions worldwide, but you hate Penn State, right?”

Here is a list of great alumni from Penn State.  On that list we see the first African-American in space Guion Bufod, the founder of Accuweather, lots of writers and screenwriters (for such movies as Casablanca, Anchorman and Die Hard), leaders of companies like Sheetz, Hershey Foods, Nike and many more…and the inventor of the Slinky.

Penn State always has been and always will be more than a football school.

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