Would the ACC Add Penn State?
By Jacob Shoor
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Would Penn State's academic leaders have the humility to approach the ACC? And if they do, would the ACC want to take on the task?
Count me among those who for a long time believed in the Joe Paterno and Happy Valley myths. My rosy view began to be blown aside when I first read about Vicky Triponey. She was the Penn State VP who became the object of JoePa's wrath because she insisted on disciplining his football players. JoePa's hubris had become complete: he felt certain that he was above everyone and deserved such status. He made the rules, and his people were accountable to no one but him.
That is the way to begin to understand why the NCAA's harsh penalties are not too harsh. The worst possible lack of institutional control is not when boosters pay players; it is not even when players cheat academically with the knowledge of the head coach. It is when the head coach runs off a university vice president who dared discipline his growing number of players violating university rules and breaking state and local laws after he had basically dictated that the university would cover up the pedophilia of a long time assistant - with many illegal acts occurring in the university's football facilities.
Somewhere in my educational past I was told that Douglas MacArthur made major Japanese officials, as part of their rehabilitation, chant repeatedly: the Emperor is not a God. I have no idea if that actually occurred, but I am confident that Penn State fans now are being forced to realize that JoePa is not remotely close to being the virtually messianic lone honest football coach he and his hagiographers presented to the world.
The JoePa tale is a Greek tragedy. The tragic hero is both made and undone by the same thing. The brilliant hardheadedness that made JoePa a legendary coach became hubris, and that hubris dragged him down to the depths.
Tragedy teaches moral responsibility, and the learning requires the tragic hero and all those he loves to pay dearly for a very long time. JoePa could not remain the all time winningest coach. The JoePa statue had to come down. Penn State football had to be hobbled for at least the traditional four years of college. As college football is big money, Penn State had to pay through the nose.
If the university administration is wise, it will do even more to distance the school and its football from JoePa and his idiosyncrasies and demands. One way would be to change the uniforms. Blue helmets would be a start, and stripes on pants would also help.
The university also needs to explore leaving the Big Ten. It was JoePa who drove that bus, who bulldozed various reluctant boosters and university officials to work to get invited into the midwestern conference, thus taking the Nittany Lions away from their most important rivals, which are all schools in the east. When Big Ten ADs led a revolt against Penn State being invited, it was JoePa who smoothed things over and made certain his school - the university he for all practical purposes ran as the football coach - kept its invite.
When JoePa's dream of an Eastern League for football was foiled by Big East basketball, he furiously turned his back on his university's region. Even rivals as central to Penn State's sports history as Pitt and Syracuse got booted to the curb.
The fiscal realities of college sports mean that Penn State's non-revenue sports cannot allow Penn State to be an independent again. That means that for Penn State to leave the Big Ten and return to its roots, which run much older than even JoePa's arrival on campus, the ACC would need to add Penn State.
I have no idea if the ACC would do so. I am confident that if the ACC felt adding Penn State would hurt its chances to add Notre Dame eventually that it would pass on Penn State. I also am confident that ACC membership would allow Penn State football time to heal while the university's athletics department would blossom.
When Pitt and Syracuse announced they were entering the ACC, former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese said it made no sense because the ACC would not profit because schools that entered the ACC seemed to profit at its expense. His logic, of course, is skewed, because if a conference enables its new members to see their athletics departments succeed and prosper, then the league gains as well. Tranghese was revealing that the ACC has a history of taking in schools it feels fit with the league that may be near charity cases.
When the ACC added Georgia Tech, its athletics department was in such dire straits that there was serious talk of down grading football. Florida State's football team was a big winner, but its athletics department was a near basket case of ineptitude, and the university was seen widely as little more than a football factory. Miami's athletics department bled money its entire time in the Big East.
So, yes, the ACC could rehabilitate Penn State and help it regain what JoePa's hubris built and then destroyed.
But would Penn State's academic leaders have the humility to approach the ACC? And if they do, would the ACC want to take on the task?