By Adam Hoge-
(CBS) “If True, Big Ten Should Kick Penn State Out”
That was the headline on my Nov. 8, 2011 column, written the day before Joe Paterno and Graham Spanier were fired.
I believed it then, and I believe it now. Especially after reading the Freeh Report.
While most of the conversation right now is about how the NCAA should punish Penn State, there’s a different organization that has been laying low and has the power to take action: the Big Ten.
I don’t need to re-write my column from November, but the gist is this:
Penn State started playing football in the Big Ten in 1993. Jerry Sandusky was convicted of sexual abuse in an incident that happened in 1994. The Freeh Report provides further proof that Penn State started covering up Sandusky’s abuse in 1998. That cover up continued until the Grand Jury Report was released in November.
In other words, for all but one year that Penn State has been playing football in the Big Ten, the school has had a coach raping children and/or administrators actively covering up that child rape.
How can any conference accept that kind of a behavior from one of its member institutions? Especially when it has occurred for almost the entire time that institution has been a member of the conference?
The Big Ten has to dissociate itself from Penn State or it is sending a troubling message to the rest of its members that these kind of coverups are acceptable.
Admittedly, I have struggled with whether or not Penn State should get the death penalty. Part of me believes it’s a cut-and-dry issue. The facts clearly show a football program spinning out of control and allowing children to become victims of an enabled monster. Shutting down the program seems like the only appropriate punishment when thinking about it that simplistically.
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. I have sympathy for the current players who had nothing to do with these crimes — not in the sense that they will have to play football elsewhere, but rather in the sense that they won’t be able to earn their degree from Penn State if they are forced to play football at another school.
I also had my eyes opened by a column written by CBSSports.com’s Gregg Doyle, who outlined the impact the death penalty would have on the entire State College area. Unemployment would rise. Foreclosures would rise. While I do believe the community’s blind elevation of Joe Paterno into a false idol contributed to these troubled men picking football over innocent children, those people in the community didn’t make the decision not to go to the police. Is it right to punish them too?
That’s where the Big Ten can come in and provide a sufficient enough punishment that will impact less innocent people.
Kicking Penn State out of the conference would still be devastating enough to send a message that this can’t happen again (after all, that should be the motivation for a punishment). PSU would lose millions in bowl payouts from the Big Ten and profits from the Big Ten Network. The football team would be forced to return to life as an independent as no other conference would be able justify adding the program after what has occurred — at least not for a while. The rest of PSU’s athletic programs could find another league, with the football program possibly joining down the road after it serves its time. I hear the Big East is looking for teams. And no, Penn State would not ink a TV deal like Notre Dame has with NBC, because the fan base does not have the same national reach. Plus, would any television network really want to associate itself with the discarded program? Recruiting would suffer and it would take years, maybe decades to recover.
But locally, football would still go on. The current players could still earn their degree from Penn State while playing football there. If the fans are as loyal as they say they are, 106,572 of them would still pack Beaver Stadium every week. The community would still bring in its millions in tourist dollars and not suffer like it would if Penn State football ceased to exist all together.
Nationally, however, no one would notice. With no national television exposure, Penn State football would live all by itself in the bubble that caused this in the first place, reflect and correct its mistakes.
Of course, this probably won’t happen. In fact, the death penalty seems more likely.
There are plenty of reasons why the Big Ten won’t do the right thing and boot Penn State, but here are three key reasons:
1) Big Ten Hockey – How ironic is it that hockey could save football? Penn State’s hockey program will play its first season at the Division I level this season and next year, the Big Ten hockey conference will start up. Before PSU went D-I, only five Big Ten schools had D-I hockey programs: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State. Conference rules require participation from six programs to have a conference champion in a specific sport, so when Penn State went D-I, Big Ten hockey was born.
Would the Big Ten be willing to scrap their plans for a hockey conference? I doubt it. Hockey is a borderline non-revenue sport, but the conference will likely pull in some profits with the Big Ten Network broadcasting games and the conference hosting a postseason tournament every season.
Plus, the WCHA and CCHA — the two conferences that currently house the five Big Ten hockey programs — have already started to move on. Would they take back their most prominent members? Financially, I’m sure they would love to, but logistically, it would be a nightmare. The CCHA is disbanding after this season and another new conference, the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, is starting up next season. I’m sure it wouldn’t be impossible to find a place for the five Big Ten teams, but again, will the conference be willing to end the league before it even starts?
2) Big Ten Championship Game – This one is obvious. NCAA rules require 12 teams split into two divisions in order to hold a conference championship game exempt from the 12-game regular season schedule. If Penn State goes bye-bye, the Big Ten would need a replacement to maintain its divisions and championship game.
3) Big Ten Network – As the Big Ten’s eastern-most school, Penn State gives BTN a greater reach out east. Without PSU, Ohio State would become the eastern most school and network’s reach out east could be compromised.
Basically, if the Big Ten were to boot Penn State, it would need to find a new football-strong member with a D-I hockey program and strong fan base out East.
There are only 59 Division I hockey programs to begin with and in reality, there’s only one school that fits these requirements: Notre Dame.
Like I said, the death penalty seems more likely.
Adam is the Sports Editor for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the Bears, White Sox and college sports. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHogeCBS and read more of his columns here.