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A Possible Replacement for Hazell at Purdue October 17, 2016

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Remember me, Big Ten?

Coach Darrell Hazell has been fired at Purdue.  Yes, it was highly commendable how he made lots of friendly gestures in reaching out to the football alums; how well-behaved and polite his kids are; how he preaches morals and good conduct to his players.  As a person, Hazell was a very good man.  As a coach, he was a charlatan.

 

We were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt after his first horrible season (2013).  The blowout loss at home to then-No. 2 Ohio State on Nov. 2 of that year was an affront to the university, to the Purdue program, to say nothing of all the Purdue football alumni forebears who had to watch such a disgraceful showing.  Little did we know that plenty more disgraceful showings were to come in the course of almost four seasons.  Those of us who have followed Purdue football for two decades or more know only too well what a disastrous coach Jim Colletto was, but at least the guy could recruit.  With Hazell, we have lacked even that silver lining.

It turns out that Hazell was former AD Morgan Burke’s parting “Gift.”  The humor is in understanding the double entendre, for the word “Gift” in German – hence the capitalized noun, a constant in that language – means “poison”.  In fact, that disastrous hire has permanently tainted Burke’s legacy as an athletics director.  Rightfully so, too.  This is what happens when you continually hire coaches on the cheap, withhold needed administrative support and resources, then act like you’re going to pay the new head coach real money (actually, not so much, comparatively speaking), only to hire a charlatan who fooled you with one good season at a bottom-feeding MAC program.  We saw this scenario before with Turner Gil having one good season at Buffalo, making the gullible think that he was the next Jack Welch.  How well did that hire work out of you, Kansas?

To put it another way, Purdue paid Darrell Hazell roughly $1 Million more than they paid Danny Hope per year, even though the former finished with a 9-33 record at that school, while Hope went 22-27 with two bowl appearances.  Nothing like paying more for a much worse performance, no?

Thankfully, we now have the prospect of being spared future embarrassments in the seasons to come…provided that new Purdue AD Mike Bobinski makes the right hire.  In the college game, hiring the right coach makes all the difference in the world.  Just look at Michigan.  All of us left that program for dead…or, least for permanent diminished relevance.  Then they hired Jim Harbaugh, and in his second year, they are already a national championship contender.

Granted, Purdue is not Michigan, neither in terms of tradition, resources, or recruiting channels.  But that is not to say that there is potential to hire a good coach to not just give the program the shot in the arm it needs, but also, immediately give the program the electric shock paddles just to get its heart to beat again.

But who?  Several ideas have been tossed out in the comment section of the most recent Hammer and Rails articles.  Many of the faithful, for example, seem fixated on Les Miles.  Honestly, that would be a pleasing hire to me.  He would be effective in shaking up the culture, and would attract lots of eyeballs and thus attract some good recruits.  My purpose is to offer an additional idea; not to say it is THE only idea to be considered, but that it is AN idea to be considered.  Here it is:

Bo Pelini.  There are three major upsides with this possible hire.  For one, he is currently coaching at Youngstown State, which is an FCS school.  That’s right, he’s not even coaching at an FBS school after Nebraska fired him.  It would therefore not be a hard sell for him to come to Purdue for a Power Five FBS job.  Indeed, given his current predicament, a salary just slightly higher than Hazell’s might suffice.

Second, Purdue is a Big Ten team, same as his former team Nebraska, who did him dirty.  Those idiots fired him for going 9-3.  Who in their right mind would do such a thing?  Given his reputation for intensity – something Purdue’s program desperately needs, obviously – it would stand to reason that he would not be a “forgive and forget” type.  Thus, the opportunity for revenge against those in the conference who wronged him would make Pelini coming to Purdue an even easier sell.

Third, he clearly has recruiting contacts.  One would need that in order to be able to win nine games a year in a state that produces zero NFL talent, save for the occasional offensive lineman.  His is clearly a name recognized throughout the conference regardless, and that is the most key item.

Indeed, regardless of who becomes the new coach, it is an absolute requirement that he be a recognizable name.  We cannot roll the dice with a coach from the MAC again.  We already made that mistake.  We need a “big name” to show that we truly are committed to not only righting the ship but making sure that it stays on course for the long haul and does not hit a reef again.  Bo Pelini would be such a name.  If not he, then Les Miles should do just fine, or even Dave Wannstedt, for that matter.  If Notre Dame is foolish enough to fire Brian Kelly this year (don’t put it past such a delusional fan base to call for something that monumentally insane, either), then by all means should Purdue empty the bank for him.  Morevoer, if such a scenario were to take place, by all means, forget Pelini go all-in on Kelly!

If nothing else, Mike Bobinski ought to heed that last bit of advice, as his young legacy as the new AD at Purdue hangs in the balance with this critical decision.  Either Purdue gets a name guy with a proven history, or they will stay in the outhouse forever, reaching for the “flush” handle.

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On Morgan Burke and Purdue February 19, 2016

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MJB_Purdue1Morgan J. Burke has been the Athletics Director at Purdue University for more than 20 years.  On Thursday, Feb. 11, he announced that he would retire from this position, effective June of next year.  During his lengthy tenure, he has garnered a reputation amongst his peers as one of the most competent AD’s in major college athletics, especially in terms of finances.  With so many AD’s spending money as if their budgets were bottomless pits, Burke has been very fiscally sound, and has enjoyed the deserved reputation as a prudent business manager as a result.

When he took over as the top athletics administrator in 1993, Purdue had the absolute worst athletics program in the Big Ten.  Hammer and Rails has an article that puts this in perspective, including that fact that the football program only had five (yes, five) bowl appearances total in its history, and was in year eight of a 12-year bowl game drought.  The schools’ baseball, ahem, “stadium” would have been considered poor by high school standards.  The swimming and diving teams’ home pool was in some hidden location underground at Lambert Fieldhouse.  Ross-Ade Stadium was practically falling apart.  In short, the department itself was operating on a shoestring budget with awful facilities and teams badly-performing as a result.

In the span of Burke’s tenure, Ross-Ade received much-needed renovations, including leading the way in building an aircraft carrier-sized press box on the side of one’s football stadium.  The football team has enjoyed 12 bowl appearances between 1997 and 2012, including an elusive and prestigious Rose Bowl berth.  Mackey Arena has also enjoyed major upgrades, along with being home to a men’s team that has delivered four men’s basketball Big Ten titles and a women’s national championship.  For what it’s worth, women’s golf brought home the national title in 2010. A nice, more comprehensive list of all that Burke has done well can be found here.

Moreover, (again, for what it’s worth), women’s soccer, softball, baseball, and tennis all have new facilities.  The new swimming and diving pool, opened up ca. 2000, is considered one of the finest college natatoria in the whole country.  While not exactly on most people’s radar screens, Purdue has become a diving powerhouse (e.g., David Boudia, 2012 Olympic gold medalist).

And yet, to speak with the Purdue University faithful these days, the firm impression is that the athletics department is in an absolute shambles.  Sure, it’s all well and good that the softball, baseball and soccer teams have wonderful facilities, and a fine reflection on the university that the swim teams have a jewel of a pool to call their own.  But there are problems afoot with the two highest-profile programs, those being football and men’s basketball.

The latter has been performing very inconsistently as of late, what with promising recruiting classes that fail to live up to their potential.  But even worse and more urgent is the absolute disgrace of the football team.  Coach Joe Tiller’s teams’ performances started waning during his last few years, especially since the 2005 season.  When former assistant coach to Tiller in Danny Hope took over (he had been the head coach at Eastern Kentucky University from 2003 through 2007), things kept declining further (5-7 in 2009, 4-8 in 2010).  Coach Hope enjoyed only two bowl appearances after going 7-6 in 2011 and 6-6 in 2012.  Ironically, he was fired despite a bowl berth in 2012.

Herein lies a symptom of a systemic problem.  Purdue has been NOTORIOUS for not paying its coaches even average market value.  Coach Tiller was one of the lowest-paid football coaches in the conference for one, and that did not change when the torch was passed to Coach Hope.  In college football, it’s all about the coach and the kind of playing talent that coach is able to recruit.  Just see what Brian Kelly has achieved at Notre Dame, in this era’s Sunbelt-dominated era of college football, or how Jim Harbaugh has been turning things around at Michigan to illustrate this crucial point.

Basically, Burke tried to make things work with Coach Hope while giving him a shoestring budget.  Coach Hope in turn did what he could with such a dearth of resources, but his performance on the field reflected the fact that he was not getting the type of support he needed to compete effectively in major college football.  Firing him became tantamount to killing the messenger.

But there are other dimensions to this problem.  Before and during the Coach Hope era, Purdue’s reputation for under-paying its athletic personnel was well-founded and deserved.  Even competent, ambitious people who worked on the administrative side of the department would leave for better pay at other schools, even to the intra-conference competition.  That especially went for assistant coaches who were worth a thing in the sport; after a few years of building a reputation at Purdue, they would soon leave for greener pastures.  As Fox Sports’ Colin Cowherd often reminds us, “[C]oaches do not care about your fight song:  PAY them!”

Burke seemed to have gotten that memo when searching for a new football coach in the wake of Coach Hope’s departure.  He announced that he was raising additional funds to try to attract a better coaching talent.  Eventually, the searched settled on Darrell Hazell, then the head coach at Kent State who had a good year with the Golden Flashes (as an aside, snapping up a MAC coach who has had only one or two good years there into a Power Five Conference team is always a risky roll of the dice).  Case in point:  while Coach Hope’s base salary was $925,000 a year, Coach Hazell’s base salary was $1,750,000.  Better, but still not enough to attract talent on par with, say, James Franklin of Penn State or Mark Dantonio at Michigan State, let alone Urban Meyer or Jim Harbaugh.

Moreover, when the bigger players in the B1G are searching for their new coach, they never seem to have to announce some fundraising effort to be able to offer a big-name, proven winner of a coach a competitive salary.  Yet Purdue had to announce such an effort just to be able to pay its coach $1.75 million, which is still sub-average among the Power Five.

Before drilling even deeper to the root problem, let us keep things in perspective for now.  Burke has been proven that he is among the best AD’s in the country in terms of two things.  One is operations.  Having attended the Big Ten wrestling championships, hosted in Mackey Arena on March 3, 2012, I can personally attest that they were carried out flawlessly.

The other is financials.  The Big Ten is home to some gigantic athletics departments that include both Michigan and Ohio State, both of whom have a figurative license to print money.  Purdue, meanwhile is at a systemic disadvantage in that its athletic department receives ZERO money from the university.  Despite that handicap, Burke has led a very financially-sound department, with each fiscal year ending in the black.

But Burke’s weakness has been talent acquisition, which, frankly, is 90% of his job in the public’s eye.  He lucked out with Coach Tiller, who in hindsight had a limited shelf life of effectiveness without Drew Brees.  He tried going cheap with Coach Hope after Tiller, and that ended up crippling the program.  Although he doubled the head football coach’s salary at Purdue, he has wasted it on Darrell Hazell.  Granted, Hazell is a fine man who has raised outstanding kids and has done everything beyond reproach.  Moreover, he has done wonderful, marvelous things in reaching out to football alums.

Yet despite being a fine gentleman off the field, Coach Hazell’s on-the-field record has been only 6-30 in three seasons.  This dismal performance has led to a damaging effect on Purdue’s athletic and thus academic reputation to average people.  It has in turn led to major frustrations on the part of the Purdue alumni and related faithful.  Since Burke hired Hazell, a good bulk of this frustration has understandably been laid at the feet of the AD.

Thus, the initial reaction to the announcement of Burke’s eventual retirement:  why wait so long when a changing of the guard appears to be in order?  Sixteen months seems like a long time to wait to take the program into a new direction.  More to the point, is the change desperately in order?  Answer:  yes and no.  A two-decade tenure for an athletics director is long enough.  After that lengthy span of time, new blood is needed, with new leadership to take the department in new directions.  Given the current, disgraceful abyss of the football program and the inconsistent performance of men’s basketball, that new direction is obviously, desperately needed.

But will a changing of the guard at AD really help beget that?  After extensive deliberation and searching of perspectives, I am led to conclude that a new AD alone might not help bring about  the change Purdue desperately needs.  Perhaps Burke’s ineptitude at hiring a proven, big-name coach was a symptom of his being hamstrung by the Board of Trustees.

Most universities “get it.”  That is, they understand that college athletics, and football in particular, are front porches to their universities.  Meaning, the trustees of most major universities understand that football is the primary marketing tool, and they thus see the football team as a way of leveraging and building the schools’ entire reputation in the eyes of the general public.  Purdue, in contrast, sees athletics as a secondary mission, and has historically chosen to put academics first.  While this is noble, it is also short-sighted, given the context of today’s society, where we accept the use of a school’s football team as the primary promotion tool as normal and indeed, expected.

When podunk Appalachian State was vying for three consecutive national titles as the FCS level in football last decade, it was a huge shot in the arm for that school.  During a home game in the playoffs in 2007, the university’s president was on the sidelines wearing an ASU football jersey, joyously telling the sideline reporter for ESPN that applications for potential students to attend that university had skyrocketed.  Enough said.

Thus we are led to the core problem at hand:  why do the members of Purdue’s Board of Trustees fail to grasp this?  As long as they fail to understand this basic, modern tenant of university promotion, it might not matter how capable Burke’s replacement at AD will be.

The End of the Danny Hope Era at Purdue: a postmortem and a forward look November 30, 2012

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Over the past few days, the word about Coach Danny Hope’s firing has spread like wildfire.  In four seasons as Purdue’s head football coach, Hope was 22-27, with no appreciable signs of improvement from when he took over from Coach Joe Tiller at the helm.  This particular development had been, according to rumors, that Athletics Director Morgan J. Burke had actually been planned since Purdue’s blowout loss at home to Wisconsin.  Be that as it may, the development having been brought to fruition has opened a floodgate of after-the-fact criticism against the man, something I flat-out refuse to join.

Say what you want about Coach Hope:  he treated those who played under him as well as those who worked under him more than equitably.  He cared for every one of his players as if they were all his sons.  Coach Hope and I go back about 15 years, when I first met him at Coach Tiller’s summer football camp for high school players.  Starting a year later, I was an aide to him while a student manager on the Purdue team, helping him out on the sidelines during games while he was the offensive line coach under Joe Tiller.  In the subsequent years that followed, he went out of his way to make me feel like part of the football family, be it at Eastern Kentucky University – a long story! – or at Purdue as well.  I have awesome articles of athletic-themed attire that I shall forever treasure wearing – stuff that he personally gave me.

But I am not the only one ever grateful, ever true to the man now stepping down as head man of the Purdue football team.  None other than Drew Brees and Matt Light consider Coach Hope “their coach.”  Drew has been quoted as saying that he would run through a brick wall for Hope.  Matt Light, former all-pro offensive tackle, not to mention the man who protected Tom Brady’s blind side for a solid decade, has credited Coach Hope with molding him into an NFL lineman.

Bear Bryant was known to say “[i]f anything goes bad, I did it. If anything goes semi-good, we did it.
If anything goes real good, you did it. That’s all it takes to get people to win football games.”  With every big win – few as there were – Hope always passed the credit along to his players.  When Purdue won in Michigan Stadium for the first time in over four decades, Coach Hope was almost in tears on account of how proud he was of his boys and how well they played.

Moreover, when Hope’s tenure began, on paper, it was a good hire.  He was the perfect organizational/cultural fit, having served under Coach Tiller all those years.  Moreover, anybody who has met the man could not help but love him, what with his high-energy, high-enthusiasm personality that could brighten up any room.  Better yet, he brought in Gary Nord as offensive coordinator.  Both learned the coaching ropes together under the legendary Howard Schnellenberger, so obviously they had the pedigree.  Between Hope’s high-energy approach towards motivating players and Nord’s abilities with the X’s and O’s, it seemed to be an awesome match.  Sadly, things did not turn out that way, as the results clearly show.

The question becomes, why?  One plausible explanation is that Hope’s under-performance is the symptom of a bigger issue within Purdue’s athletics dept.  One of Purdue’s dirty little secrets is, historically they under-compensate their personnel compared to other Big Ten athletics programs.  Anybody with any ambition at all puts in their time, enhances their resumes, then leave for, er, greener pastures, leaving behind good people that stay out of a combination of loyalty (commendable though that may be) and lack of options.

To put things even more bluntly, Purdue is notoriously cheap when it comes to paying its coaches.  That could explain Coach Hope’s woes, to an extent.  A cursory survey will reveal that Purdue has the lowest football coaches’ salaries of any staff in the B1G.  Not good.  Hope himself was the lowest-paid head coach in the conference, making only $950,000 this year.  Yes, I know, to the vast majority of people, that is a tidy sum.  But when you consider that even Tim Beckman of Illinois makes $1.6 million, or even Kevin Wilson of lowly Indiana makes $1.2 million annually, something is dreadfully wrong in Boilerland.

The same problem applies to underpaying assistant coaches.  Therefore, the head coach does what he can to bring in assistants, but once they build up their resume, they then go somewhere else where they can make more money.  Successful football programs depend in part with coaching continuity.  Don’t believe me?  Look at what happened to mighty Texas when the bulk of their assistants left, or the slump Florida found itself in for a while.  Now imagine the havoc that is wrought on a program like Purdue from lack of such continuity.  To quote ESPN’s Colin Cowherd, coaches do not care about your school’s fight song:  pay them!

That brings us to the another major point.  Morgan Burke right now faces the awesome task of finding a new CEO of the football program to take it in a new, better direction.  Certain names have been tossed around here and there, but no matter whom they hire, if Burke does not take a crowbar to the department’s wallet, Purdue will be in the same situation it is in now in three or four years’ time.

Adam Rittenberg, a blogger of espn.com has reported that Burke is putting together a $4.5 million fund for the next coach.  If that is true, then maybe, after all these years, it has sunk in that he needs to pay his football coaches substantially more than in the past, distant and recent.  Yes, Burke deserves credit for ably managing the athletics department’s bottom line, but that bottom line itself is in jeopardy if the team keeps losing games and the fans vote with their feet in the form of lost ticket revenue.  As the saying goes, you have to spend money to make money.  Winning games makes money, and to win games, Purdue needs to raise football coaches’ pay (both head coach and assistants) if they want to get anywhere.  Let us hope that the rumored $4.5 million is made available soon for the best coaching talent out there.  But by that same token, assembling those funds should be a sign that Burke et al. have finally figured out that winning in the Big Ten (or any other “Big Six” conference these days) costs money, and they do deserve some credit for figuring that out, even if belatedly.

Another problem for the program was the offensive strategy combined with a stale culture.  Concerning the latter, let us face it:  bringing in Coach Hope to replace Coach Tiller was, in some regards, more of the same.  The head coach is CEO of the football program.  Like a chief executive, his job is to not only set the strategy, but also the culture and tone of the organization.  Bringing in Hope was more of the same in that the Tiller influence was able to linger longer than it should.  Coach Tiller did a wonderful job of bringing Purdue out of the wretched Jim Colletto era doldrums, but after a while, things became stale.  Furthermore, his one-sided “basketball on grass” was becoming less and less effective.  Frankly, Drew Brees and his ability to work the on-field magic that he did made Tiller’s offense look far more effective than it really was.  The best season Purdue had post-Drew was the 2003 season, where we had a tough, veteran defense combined with Coach Tiller “discovering” something called the running game.  Sadly, Coach Tiller never learned from his successes that season, and engaged in a very lengthy panic to where Purdue’s offense continued to dwindle as it became ever-more reliant on the passing game.  The more-of-the-same approach, that which worked before but became less effective as the conference overall changed, in turn caused the organizational culture to go stale as well.

Ultimately, Coach Hope’s on-field woes could most likely be attributed to the ongoing quarterback merry-go-round, combined with a poor choice of offensive strategy that was, again, too reliant on the pass.  In so many games, I observed too many over-engineered plays that were attempted to be executed by under-skilled personnel.  The nature of these plays tended to put the offensive players in too many precarious situations, which could account for why injuries perpetually plagued Hope and his team.

A run-oriented, option-based attack could have rectified this problem.  So many fans argue that the passing game is what puts butts in the seats, but I counter in turn that winning is what truly generates enthusiasm for a program, and thus stimulates greater attendance.  Three yards and a cloud of dust will sell just as well as the passing game, if you win.  The new coach, whoever he may be, will be well-served to heed this advice.  Given our current personnel, we could credibly execute a flexbone option attack much like Georgia Tech and Navy currently use.  It could buy us time until we bring in personnel that could give us more options in a balanced, pro-style attack that is a proven winning approach with teams throughout the country.

But in the meantime, do not pile on Coach Hope.  I will always admire him as a loyal, gracious man.  He stood for everything a place like Purdue should support — values, character, sincerity, and integrity.  The Boiler Nation would be well-served to never forget that.

NCAA out of Bounds in Sanctioning Penn State September 20, 2012

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Back-up placekicker Sam Ficken for Penn State, walking off the field dejected in losing on the road to Virginia. Ficken was the Nittany Lions’ back-up kicker, as their erstwhile starting kicker transferred to the University of Texas amid the chaos in Happy Valley.

Anybody who is remotely aware of the major developments in the world of big-time sports, specifically college football, has no doubt heard the news about the mountain of sanctions that the NCAA has arbitrarily heaped onto the once-vaunted football program of Pennsylvania State University, a.k.a., Penn State.  These sanctions include a $60 million fine, a four-year postseason bowl ban, a Draconian reduction in scholarships (10 initial, 20 total each year for four years), and, to add insult to injury, vacate all the wins during the late Joe Paterno’s tenure dating back to 1998 – the year when the bulk of the child abuses perpetrated by then-assistant coach Jerry Sandusky were first internally known among some staff members.

Before the discussion proceeds any further, be it known and understood that I carry no water for Penn State.  As a graduate of a Big 10 Conference rival, I had no love for a team that beat us in all the years that we played them during my time as a college student.  Furthermore, I make no apologies for the stubborn refusal of JoePa to plan and execute his own exit strategy, which he should have done a full decade before his sudden and long-overdue ouster in 2011.  Most importantly, this not in any way to rationalize the evils perpetrated by Sandusky, nor to be insensitive to the undue emotional and spiritual scarring wrought upon the innocent young victims.

But what did these evils themselves have to do with the football program at large?  Sandusky was found guilty of these heinous crimes in the court of law, and awaits a sentence that will surely be tantamount to spending the rest of his life in prison.  He has not been directly affiliated with the program since the end of the 1999 season.  Moreover, Paterno has not only ceased to the head coach at PSU – a position he held for more than four decades – but he is deceased.  The two individuals to whom legitimate blame for these evils is warranted – the perpetrator in Sandusky and the enabler in Paterno – are either in jail or are underneath the sod (in this case, respectively!).

The point is, the crimes that were done by Sandusky and on Paterno’s watch were transgressions of the legal nature, and were punished in the legal realm.  Whatever further punishment awaits both in the next life is a matter for the theologians to debate.  But this had nothing to do with NCAA ethics.  And is that not the grounds for which this august governing body for collegiate athletics metes out its punishment to member athletics departments?

The NCAA, in their supposed magnanimity, allowed for players currently on the roster of the Penn State football team to transfer to other programs without being forced to sit out for year.  Under normal circumstances, players on a Division 1A (pardon me, Football Bowl Subdivision, or FBS) program who choose to transfer to another school/team have to sit out for one season, unless they transfer to a Division 1AA program (pardon me, Football Championship Subdivision, or FCS).  For example, if a player is on the roster at, say, the University of Cincinnati, he feels as though he is not a good fit after all, and decides to play elsewhere, he could transfer, to say, Eastern Kentucky University, and play immediately.  Not so if he were to transfer to, say, the University of Toledo, or Kent State, the University of Kentucky, or of Louisville, and expect to play immediately, for the NCAA mandates that such a lateral transfer requires the given student to sit out for a year.

At least the governing body in question had the decency to recognize that the current players on the team had nothing to do with the aforementioned evils, and should be let off the proverbial hook so they could continue to be in a position to reap the rewards that winning effort on the field allows.  For they have waived the traditional transfer rule and have allowed current PSU players to go to other FBS teams that have a chance to go to a bowl game, thus leaving Penn State in a further weakened state than it already is.  At least ten players have taken up the NCAA on this offer, and have transferred elsewhere, notably to Illinois, to Florida, to Texas, N.C. State, even to Cal and USC.

All this leaves the Penn State program in a severely weakened state.  The players worth any count have been given the option to seek greener pastures, and have naturally done so.  The remaining players are, according to reason, less skilled, and the performance on the field – losing at home to Ohio U at home and to Virginia on the road – with a back-up kicker missing key field goals (the starting kicker wisely fled to join the Texas Longhorns, whose collective star is on the re-rise).

To sum things up, the program is $60 million poorer, bereft of its more-skilled players, and unable to attract players worth any count for the next four years at least on account of both losing some of its scholarships to offer, to say nothing of no prospects of a post-season bowl game for that length of time, no matter how well the team does in the regular season.  In short, the NCAA essentially gave them a walking death penalty.  The only reason that Penn State acquiesced to these stringent terms is that if PSU did not, the NCAA would have given them the real thing, according to the new president of the university, Rodney Erickson.

The only time the NCAA handed down the “death penalty” to a football program (where the program is not allowed to even field a team and play that sport for an entire season) was to SMU in 1987.  The ruling’s reasons, according to NCAA investigators, were, among others, an under-the-table slush fund given to Mustang players, $61,000 total, to be exact.  SMU forewent fielding a team for 1988 as well.  Contrast that with the Nevin Shapiro booster scandal at the University of Miami (Fla.) that came to light in 2011.  According to Shapiro’s own admissions in numerous jailhouse interviews (currently, he is serving a prison term for a $930 million Ponzi scheme), he provided U of Miami football players with “cash, prostitutes, entertainment in his multimillion-dollar homes and yacht, paid trips to high-end restaurants and nightclubs, jewelry, bounties for on-field play (including bounties for injuring opposing players), travel and, on one occasion, an abortion.”

In both the case of SMU as well as Miami, clear recruiting and player compensation violations took place:  ethical violations that warranted/warrant NCAA punishment to those programs.  Yet Nevin Shapiro’s egregious violations make the SMU slush fund pale in comparison, yet the NCAA has yet to hand down any sanctions whatsoever to “The U.”

Meanwhile, no evidence has yet surfaced regarding the crimes of Jerry Sandusky and the tacit enabling of them by Joe Paterno having any bearing at all on recruiting violations, player compensation, or even cruelty towards players, or any other act which would legally and ethically warrant such Draconian punishment from the NCAA.

As mentioned before, the perpetrator and enablers are long gone from the University.  Sandusky awaits his prison sentence, Paterno is under the sod, and anybody else connected to Joe[Grand]Pa, including the former athletics director and even the former university president himself, both former players under Paterno, have been summarily dismissed.  Penn State has a new head football coach, a new A.D., and also a new president of this highly respected university.  They are earnestly trying to “grow new grass,” so to speak.  Why punish them, not to mention the players who have commendably made up their minds to commit their college-playing eligibility to this institution in the wake of these horrifying scandals?  Why punish the 107,000+ fans who show up at Beaver Stadium on Saturdays in the Fall?  Why punish the millions of Nittany Lion faithful over the actions of a few individuals whose violations were strictly within the legal realm, and had nothing to do with NCAA infractions?

At this time of PSU’s darkest hours, I would advise the rest of the Big Ten fan bases not to dance on the Nittany Lions’ grave.  A weakened Penn State means a weakened Big 10 Conference, this at a time when cold weather programs are increasingly at a competitive disadvantage in terms of recruiting the best players nationwide, hence are struggling to be credible contenders for national titles.  It also means weakened intra-conference competition, something that could affect other conference teams’ strength of schedules and possibly their national rankings.  A strong PSU team would mean the opposite of these potential problems.

If the sages in Indianapolis dictated that the $60 million fine go to programs that work to prevent child abuse and molestation, that would be a fitting penalty that all parties concerned could embrace.  But instead, a bunch of detached elitists decided to proceed much further than necessary and bring hard times to a proud university, to a state, and to its national fan base.  Shame on the NCAA for unduly and arbitrarily forcing Penn State’s football program into an induced coma.  Sanctions towards other programs guilty of actual violations within their jurisdiction are warranted but remain to be administered.  The governing body has some explaining to do for this clear double-standard.

As an aside, the new head coach has yet to get the hint that part of “growing new grass” means a clean break from those blindingly generic uniforms.  Nameplates on the back of the jerseys are not enough.  Bill O’Brien worked in the NFL long enough to understand what a helmet logo decal looks like.   It will be interesting to see if and when he eventually gets the hint and starts having some football-shaped Nittany Lion logo decals affixed to the sides of those mind-numbingly generic white helmets.  If these horrific developments do not sound the clarion call for Penn State to ditch those horribly generic unis once and for all, what will?