Senior College Football Columnist

Now is the time: Schools must take back their athletic programs


One year ago, they were seemingly infallible. Now, Jim Tressel and Joe Paterno are fired. (US Presswire)  
One year ago, they were seemingly infallible. Now, Jim Tressel and Joe Paterno are fired. (US Presswire)  

Here's what 46 years, 409 wins, two national championships and a stubborn, old goat of an arrogant coach get you on the way out the door:

"F--- the Trus-tees."

That was the chant coming from the steps of Penn State's Old Main administration building late Wednesday after Penn State's governing body drove a stake through the heart of Joe Paterno's legend. What is left of it now lies in ruins -- along with what has to be a pile of beer cans near that Old Main.

After all those years, all those wins and one incredible oversight (at the very least), Paterno left in disgrace. The 84-year-old coach basically dared Penn State's board of trustees when he retired earlier Wednesday effective at the end of the season.

It was one, final controlling gesture from a man who had installed himself as president-for-life over a small Pennsylvania hamlet that had come to resemble M. Night Shyamalan's The Village. The real world in State College was outside of the city limits.

Inside there was such a Stepford Wives existence that Penn State students high on anger, indignation and Yuengling came close to rioting in support of their coach. Yes, JoePa arrogantly dared Penn State's board to get rid of him. They did Wednesday, with prejudice. A man defined by achieving success with honor will be remembered less about the success and more about the dishonor.

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What we're left with is the Big Take Back. Let's hope this is the moment when it begins, a movement to take back college athletics from the current stakeholders. They have failed miserably -- the bloated athletic departments; the overpaid, out-of-touch coaches; the apparel companies; the networks; maybe even the NCAA. This is where the excess has to stop. This has to be the point when universities quit bowing down to King Football, quit drooling over the prospect of colorful uniforms, stop being beholden to ratings.

Yeah, I know. That situation exists. It's called the Ivy League. Maybe I'm too idealistic, but we're witnessing the alternative. There currently is no middle ground. If you want to play in Division I-AA, that's up to you. If you want to step up, you gotta play hard and pay hard.

What has happened in the past year or two has changed my mind. Let's downsize. Now. Let's cut scholarships. Let's limit the number of coaches. Let's limit their pay. While those players are earning their $2,000 stipend, let's give them another day off during the week. If everybody is playing by the same rules, it doesn't matter. Don't ask the coaches, tell them. They have as much perspective as those students at the Old Main.

Football excess is one reason Jerry Sandusky was allowed to roam free. He was a good, old boy in a powerful program where even alleged sexual deviancy wasn't worth pursuing. Sandusky's football contributions had helped expand Beaver Stadium. He was a main reason it was called Linebacker U. Even after he was gone, his legacy kept luring recruits. At the same time, Sandusky was allegedly luring victims.

Football can't ever be this big again. Not without some sort of increased oversight. I've said for years that FBS football can exist on 63 scholarships. Hell, Division I-AA does! Alabama and Auburn could sell out a touch football scrimmage.

When the scandal broke early on, there were wild suggestions to shut down football or forfeit Penn State's final three games. That doesn't sound so outrageous at the moment. While we're at it, limit those apparel partnerships, too. Why in the name of Garanimals do there have to be these silly-looking uniforms?

These football factories exist to protect the franchise. And The Franchise is almost a living, breathing being. It took Ohio State a couple of false starts before getting rid of Jim Tressel. Former USC AD Mike Garrett made an ass of himself, and damaged his program, fighting an NCAA investigation.

It can be argued The Franchise at Penn State trampled all over the lives of the victims.

On the same day Paterno went out kicking and screaming, the NCAA accused Central Florida AD Keith Tribble of lying to investigators. That's false and misleading information from an AD who was in charge when football player Ereck Plancher died three years ago. The circumstances surrounding that death cost the university $14 million in legal judgments and fees.

Remember back about 15 years ago, when Tom Osborne had gathered so much power than he was allowed to bring Lawrence Phillips back to the team? Phillips had dragged his former girlfriend down a set of stairs -- by her hair. He was later allowed to play, and star in, a national championship victory against Florida.

If Paterno had made it to Saturday, that would have extended the tragedy. Protestors would have mixed with loyalists, who would have mixed with players, all of it mixing with ... children. Yes, they'll be there, wondering about issues their parents hope they never have to explain.

We've lost perspective. On the same steps where those students yelled obscenities Wednesday, their predecessors were protesting the Vietnam War. One action was a bit more noble than the other.

While we're at it, how about some accountability? The American Football Coaches Association might as well disband. It has not uttered Word One about Tressel or Paterno. It took until today for the Big Ten to offer a meaningful statement on the situation.

The NCAA is looking especially toothless. We understand it has no legal jurisdiction, but maybe that has to change. Maybe the only way that changes is to get rid of the NCAA. Wait, that wouldn't work. We've seen how these schools handle things when they govern themselves. In an incredible irony, Graham Spanier, who also lost his job as Penn State president, is chairman of the BCS oversight committee.

"Success With Honor"? Not quite. A football program that staunchly defended its old-school uniforms couldn't control itself. A program based on precision made one bad decision after another. A coach who stressed communication on the field, ultimately had none when it counted inside his program.

When board vice chairman John Surma made the announcement on Paterno, there was an audible gasp in the room. Paterno media toadies went head-to-head for a few heated minutes with their more objective peers. In deftly handling questions, Surma, also the president of U.S. Steel, showed the first sign of strength at Penn State this week.

Maybe the Big Take Back has begun. We can only hope.

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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