Senior College Football Columnist

Institutional control? Report shows tragic result of Coach as King culture


Thursday morning's release of the Freeh Report was about Jerry Sandusky, but in reality, it was about so much more and something a lot bigger. It was about the warped culture of Penn State football and how its king, Joe Paterno, dominated a university and the tragic repercussions that occurred because of it.

For 14 years, the four men who were in charge at Penn State coddled -- and enabled -- a monster. The most powerful man of all was Paterno. Most people suspected that was the case when this story first blew up back in November, but now there is no more wondering. Whatever benefit of the doubt is gone. The Freeh investigation established that Joe Paterno did in fact know about a 1998 incident involving Sandusky. That is a huge detail in regard to Paterno's reaction after Mike McQueary came to the long-time Nittany Lions head coach's home on a Saturday morning in 2001 and told him of the shower incident with Sandusky and the young boy that he witnessed.

More on Penn State

Related links
More college football coverage

How could Paterno have heard that and reacted the way he did? Remember, the Paterno line about how he "didn't want to interfere with anybody's weekend?" It's appalling and disgraceful.

The report also established that Penn State changed plans to alert authorities after consulting with Paterno. Again, appalling and disgraceful, but also quite telling.

Asked if Paterno could've stopped this, former FBI director Louis Freeh said: "I think it's a very strong and reasonable inference he could have done so if he wished."

Speaking to the culture of the place and how the football program controlled the school, Freeh brought up a janitor who observed one of Sandusky's attacks. Freeh said the man told him it was the worst thing he ever saw: "This is a Korean War veteran who said, 'I've never seen anything like that. It makes me sick.' He spoke to the other janitors. They were alarmed and shocked by it. But what did they do? They said, 'We can't report this because we'll get fired.' They knew who Sandusky was.

"They were afraid to take on the football program. They said the university would circle around it. It was like going against the President of the United States. If that's the culture on the bottom, God help the culture at the top."

The word that keeps coming to mind after hearing all of this, after Freeh met with the media to discuss his findings, is "warped." The leadership at Penn State had a completely warped sense of perspective. You want to talk about Joe Paterno's legacy? This is what you now must start with: He concealed horrific crimes to avoid bad publicity and because of that, even more children became victims. To avoid bad publicity.

These men talked about treating Sandusky "humanely" and showed no concern about the victims? Turns out that was the exact opposite of humane.

This story redefines how we think of the term "scandal" as it relates to college sports, but it is a college sports scandal because it is wrapped around the truest definition of a lack of institutional control. Maybe not the one currently spelled out in the NCAA rulebook that we've come to know, but keep in mind those rules have always been open to interpretation and get stretched and twisted often by the NCAA's justice system.

Many people have tried to make the argument for weeks that the NCAA needs to stay out of this matter, that it's bigger than the NCAA, but it shouldn't be. The culture of the Coach as King of the University has existed for years. Penn State certainly isn't the only school that got caught up in it. Joe Paterno was just the biggest, latest example of it. But you think after a scandal of this magnitude, those days might be over in college sports? Really? As coaching salaries skyrocket and dwarf those of the faculty members around them by larger and larger margins while TV contracts yield billions, the clout and import of these men actually swells. I know of several instances where compliance people know better than to tangle with certain head football coaches. Those Penn State janitors aren't the only ones who think that if they come up against a powerful coach, they'll lose.

While this story is bigger than the NCAA, it does not mean the NCAA should or can look the other way. Not now. The Freeh report, after all, shows in explicit detail how a football coach ran a university and the abuse that it helped spawn.

The NCAA, as I wrote Monday, creates precedent often. It did so in the Reggie Bush case, and it did so with the Cam Newton case. And it needs to here because if the NCAA doesn't try to get in front of this by redefining and updating its version of "Institutional Control" to a truer sense, then it's inviting more scandals of abuse of power.

How these powerful people at major college programs conduct themselves might not lead to acts as heinous as the ones that occurred at Penn State. But that doesn't mean the abuse of power shouldn't be reined in and that there aren't major issues getting covered up. The NCAA needs to examine this closely, as so many of the other things it gets caught up in pale in comparison.

Look what happened here at Penn State, which for so long was held up by so many as the example of all that was good about college sports. What else is going on that gets unreported now? What gets squashed? Who knows?

The NCAA actually does have the potential to make an impact on its power brokers if it really wants to. If you don't buy that, consider what the devastating punishment of lying to the NCAA now represents to coaches after seeing what happened to the careers of Jim Tressel and Bruce Pearl.

Bruce Feldman is a senior writer for and college football commentator for CBS Sports Network. He is a New York Times Bestselling author, who has written books including Swing Your Sword, Meat Market and Cane Mutiny. Prior to joining CBS, Feldman spent 17 years at ESPN.

Biggest Stories

CBSSports Facebook Google Plus
Conversation powered by Livefyre


Most Popular

CBSSports Shop