Scandals of all kinds have tarnished college sports for decades, though what is unfolding at Penn State is hard to compare to any of them.
It’s simply on another scale, both in terms of the charges _ former Nittany Lions defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky is accused of serial child sex abuse, which he denies _ and the other person whom the case is bringing down, Joe Paterno.
The 84-year-old Paterno announced Wednesday he will retire at the end of this season, though the school’s board of trustees might not let him coach even that long.
“That would be heartbreaking if it ended like this,” Miami coach and former Penn State player Al Golden said Tuesday.
Paterno is the winningest coach in the history of Division I football, less than two weeks removed from surpassing the late Eddie Robinson of Grambling with victory No. 409, and the embodiment of a program that has generally been viewed as upstanding.
“This is like having a scandal in the White House. That’s how big this is,” said Beano Cook, a college football historian and ESPN analyst.
Paterno has been one of the most famous sports figures in this country for more than half a century and generally regarded as one of the foremost leaders in college sports.
“There’s no doubt this will hurt his legacy, but how much?” said Cook, who was a longtime sports information director at Pittsburgh. “I hope not a lot.”
Dan Jenkins, the award-winning author, sports writer and historian for the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame, said the nature of the Penn State scandal won’t necessarily do long-term damage to college sports as a whole because it doesn’t call into question the legitimacy of the games.
“Penn State’s story is for another part of the paper, not the sports section,” he said in an email. “But it calls attention to all the other ills.”
Over the years, some of those other ills have found their way to the front of the newspapers, too.
_ An academic cheating scandal at West Point in 1951 led to the dismissal of 90 cadets, including about three dozen members of Army football team. The Black Knights were a national powerhouse at the time, coached by Col. Earl “Red” Blaik, one of the most revered sports figures of his time.
_ Players from six college basketball teams, including 1950 NCAA and NIT champion City College of New York, and 33 players were found to be involved and manipulating the results of games for bettors in 1951. The other schools involved were Manhattan College, Long Island University, New York University, Bradley University, the University of Kentucky and the University of Toledo. Kentucky canceled its 1952-53 season because of the scandal.
_ SMU boosters were found by the NCAA in 1986 to have been paying football players for years. High-ranking school and state officials, including former Texas Gov. Bill Clements, the head of SMU’s board, knew of the pay-for-play arrangements. The NCAA gave SMU football the so-called death penalty, canceling the 1987 season. The school also canceled the `88 season.
_ Baylor basketball player Patrick Dennehy was found dead on July 25, 2003, after he had gone missing for a month. Teammate Carlton Dotson was eventually charged and pleaded guilty to killing Dennehy. The subsequent investigation uncovered drug use by players and illegal payments to players. Coach Dave Bliss was fired and essentially banned from coaching at another NCAA school.
The cheating at West Point and the point-shaving in college basketball, coming in a 12-month span, devastated the public’s trust in college sports
“I remember that as being stupefying,” Jenkins said of the point-shaving in particular.
The SMU scandal was also a tipping point in big-time college athletics.
A few years later, the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Sports proposed major reforms in big-time college athletics, laying the responsibility to run clean programs at the feet of university presidents.
The Baylor scandal might be most similar to what is going on at Penn State because it involved a serious crime. The NCAA violations were unearthed as part of that investigation and the reputation of the university itself was scarred.
The chaos at Penn State has certainly done that already. But, at least so far, the school has not been affected on the field.
Sandusky has been retired since 1999. Paterno has not been accused of wrongdoing by law enforcement, but Penn State athletic director Tim Curley and another university official are facing charges of perjury and that they failed to alert police about abuse complaints.
NCAA President Mark Emmert weighed in only to say, “This is a criminal matter under investigation by law enforcement authorities and I will not comment on details. However, I have read the grand jury report and find the alleged assaults appalling.”
But after high-profile NCAA investigations over the past year at schools such as Ohio State and Miami, Penn State’s legal problems represent another black mark for college sports.
“Naturally,” Nebraska Athletic Director and former coach Tom Osborne said, “anything that affects one school in intercollegiate athletics in some way affects us all.”
AP Sports Writer Tim Reynolds in Coral Gables, Fla., and Associated Press writer Grant Schulte in Lincoln, Neb., contributed to this report.
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