This week we have witnessed happenings in sports as we never have before, and hopefully never will again. The situation at Penn State is a non-sports tragedy that happened to occur within a football program. To say that writing about the scandal sickens me would be an understatement. However, the fallout from all of this is that a group that had nothing to do with the crimes will bear a large brunt of the punishment.
I agree with the NCAA (for once) that an example must be made of Pennsylvania State University. The prestige of the football program came, in the minds of those in charge at PSU, before the health and safety of children. That will never, EVER, be acceptable. The NCAA made sure that message was clear. Now the student-athletes who stepped unknowingly into a crumbling house are put to a decision. Stay and start to rebuild the program damaged by their predecessors, or jump ship and start anew in another place.
I want to preface my arguments by saying that I am somewhat, slightly, a little bit qualified to explore these possibilities. Not only did I play Big Ten football, I grew up as a huge fan of the Nittany Lions. Only when Joe Paterno completely skipped over me in the recruitment process did I lose my Lion pride and don the colors of THE Ohio State Buckeyes. I then developed a hatred for Penn State, especially when they beat us in Happy Valley my freshman year.
I will never forget sitting on the bus on the way to the airport after the game, talking to QB Robby Schoenhoft. We promised each other that we would never lose to them again (which as of Monday, turned out to be true!). A year later, after the now infamous game in which Paterno had to excuse himself, I shook the old man’s hand and thanked him. Little did he know that I was thanking him for not recruiting me and allowing me to become a Buckeye. Little did I know that I was shaking the hand of a man who had just defecated himself. Touché, Coach. To this day, I swear he had the softest hand I have ever shaken.
So what is next for these players? The biggest mistake made by most of these young men was merely believing the McQuearys of this world. They had chosen a program to play for a living legend in one of the most historic settings in America. I believe I speak for the vast majority of my former teammates when I say that Beaver Stadium is the loudest and most intimidating place (outside of Columbus) that we ever played. In fact, when the crowd, entirely clad in white, starts jumping and chanting simultaneously to the trance of “Zombie Nation”, it is almost disorienting. I remember turning around in 2005 and seeing a group of ladies no younger than 70 jumping and screaming at the top of their lungs. I am not exaggerating when I say that it felt like the whole stadium was bouncing around us. Simply put, it is an absolutely incredible experience to play in Beaver Stadium.
It is hard to justify that these kids need to show any loyalty to their school. Penn State showed no loyalty to them with their cover up of ongoing improprieties. The administrators took a horrific situation and made it exponentially worse by failing to handle it remotely close to correctly. The players did not choose to play for Bill O’Brien, and the NCAA has allowed them to secede to a more desirable location without penalty.
The only loyalties in question are those to the fans of Penn State and most importantly, to each other. Joining a football team is more like joining a family. Those young men have fought, bled, and pushed for each other, and that brotherhood is not going to be easy to walk away from. At Ohio State, we call it a “Sacred Brotherhood”, and the commitment is not one to be taken lightly. Walking away from this family would surely be one of the hardest things a young man could do.
Despite this, so much has changed in the past few months that has severely jeopardized everything these players want. They chose Penn State to play for Big Ten and National Championships. Those goals are not even possibilities for the remainder of most team members’ eligibility. There will be no BCS bowls, or even bowl games against the University of Houston. The best these guys can hope for is a competitive 12-game season in a place that they undoubtedly love. Is that enough?
Those who stay with the Nittany Lions will be revered. They will be the men who look adversity in the face and fight for what they believe in. A group has already released a statement saying that they will stay together and play football in Happy Valley. I, for one, commend their loyalty. Looking back, it would be very hard for me to leave Columbus should something major have happened during my time with the Buckeyes. Then again, it is impossible for me to comprehend what it would be like to have my entire world turned upside down.
I cannot imagine playing a season without the ultimate goals even being a possibility. However, I would not be able to walk away from my best friends and brothers. They are the ones I was playing for when it was all said and done. Those are the guys who went through everything with me, and this would not be the time to turn my back on them. The Big Ten is a better conference with a strong team in Happy Valley, and I sincerely hope that they are competitive again sooner rather than later. Best of luck to the boys in blue and white as they battle the seemingly insurmountable odds. I know I will be rooting for them 11 weeks out of the year.