A problem far greater than Penn State

BY Jason Whitlock • July 11, 2012

The Jerry Sandusky-inspired Freeh report released Thursday was as universally damning as predicted, and now there will be calls for the death of Penn State football. There will be a new round of hollow wailing about the pervasive corruption found within big-time college athletics.

Many of the people wailing and demanding SMU-style consequences for Paterno State will be the very same people who celebrated last month when big-time college football lurched a step closer to a full-blown playoff system.

They can’t see and/or fathom their hypocrisy. They can’t comprehend that the more money, games and win-at-any-cost pressure you dump into college athletics, the more likely it is for the power structure to succumb to corruption.

Yes, with the release of Penn State’s internal investigation into how the university handled convicted child molester Jerry Sandusky, Joe Paterno’s most important assistant coach, there is likely to be a great deal of discussion about the institution of big-time college football.

Should the NCAA get involved? Should the Penn State football program be shut down?

I don’t have ready-made answers to those questions.

I just know SMU’s death penalty didn’t slow under-the-table recruiting. What it did was make the reward for pretending to have integrity greater. The Pony Express begat Paterno State. Penn State self-righteously chanted “We Are!” and donated record sums of cash because its football-crazed alums and fan base fell for the myth that Joe Paterno had more integrity than his peers.

He didn’t. He never did.

Well, the latter might not be true. Maybe he did. But big-time college athletics could pervert Mother Teresa. Football and men’s and women’s basketball are so far removed from the alleged goals of college athletics and so invested in the lie of amateurism that it’s impossible for any of their long-term participants to retain the integrity they brought to the games.

A good man can live a lie for only so long before he becomes just a man.

That, I suspect, is what happened to Joe Paterno.

There was so much money tied to Penn State football that it was easy for Paterno and the Penn State administrators to choose protecting Sandusky over protecting children.

Bigger is not always better. Bigger is what makes people conclude some things are too big to fail. And when we decide things are too big to fail, there is no limit to the exploitation and corruption we’ll overlook.

Can you see where I’m going?

College football doesn’t need to get any bigger. It’s too big already. We don’t need more games. We don’t need more pressure. We don’t need an NCAA tournament-style postseason. We don’t need any more universities building revenue streams off the bogus claim that their coach wins the right way.

We need college presidents courageous enough to believe sports are actually about the young-adult participants and not blowhards in the media or blowhard fans.

Playoffs and more games are not about the players. They’re about the fans — the fans who don’t risk head injuries on Saturdays, the fans who don’t participate in a system that financially enriches all the participants except the ones who take the field.

Deciding which team is No. 1 has never been as important as the media has pretended. I’m sure in the moment, a Boise State football player thought playing for the national title was the most important thing in the world. Young people think dumb, shortsighted things all the time. That’s why they often get married to the first boy or girl they have sex with. Life eventually shows them what’s really important.

As allegedly mature adults, we should stay focused on the important stuff.

A playoff isn’t important. A playoff, the extra games, the extra TV revenue will all just contribute to the environment that created Paterno State.

I realize this column is pointlessly spitting into the wind. There is no chance of college football dialing back. College presidents and universities climbed into bed with television networks decades ago and are committed to growing the game and the games.

But there’s nothing wrong with taking a consistent position. As a former participant, I’d love to see big-time Division I college athletics move away from hypocrisy and corruption. I don’t want to see another university get invested in a lie so profitable it has to tolerate a child rapist.

There are justifiable reasons to enact harsh sanctions against Penn State. Those sanctions won’t address the primary cause of what led to the Penn State tragedy. College football is too big to fail. Unless chopped down to a manageable size, nothing will change.

Enjoy your playoffs.

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