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National Columnist

Drop your pitchforks and let State College have the football it needs

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Penn State football is about the thousands of people whose livelihoods depend on the program. (Getty Images)  
Penn State football is about the thousands of people whose livelihoods depend on the program. (Getty Images)  

The people outside State College, Pa., have spoken, and they've made it clear: They want Penn State football dead. Now and maybe even forever, but for the time being they'll settle for now -- and they don't much care how it happens. The NCAA could give Penn State the death penalty for the way it cowered behind Joe Paterno and covered for Jerry Sandusky. Or, school administrators could have a genuine moment of contrition and cancel the 2012 season.

However it happens, and however long it lasts, the people outside State College have spoken: They need Penn State football to die.

But the people inside State College need it to live -- and frankly, their concerns are more important right now than, say, yours.

State College is Penn State, and Penn State is that football program, which means State College is Penn State football. The city and the football program are linked geographically and even emotionally, yes, but I'm talking about a connection more basic than that.

I'm talking financially.

State College, not to mention Penn State itself, needs the football team to remain alive. That's not what America needs, but America needs vengeance, and sometimes vengeance isn't as important as compassion -- compassion for the indirect victims of Jerry Sandusky's evil and Joe Paterno's cowardice:

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State College.

And Penn State.

Look, there's a chicken-or-egg thing here that you and I are both going to have to concede: Which came first, Paterno's power trip or the unhealthy adoration he received from his school and city? It's impossible to say, but both combined to create a culture where Penn State football was exalted to the point that a child predator could be met with shrugs and denial. A child predator at Penn State? I'm sure Paterno and his band of sycophants -- PSU president Graham Spanier, vice president Gary Schultz, athletic director Tim Curley -- thought that was terrible. But a stain on Joe Paterno and Penn State football? To them, that was worse.

Which is why Sandusky was never stopped. Paterno and his underlings valued Penn State football over doing the right thing, a barren spot to reach psychologically -- but a spot they reached with help from their blind supporters.

My point is, the entire community around the football program -- the city, the campus and the people at both -- deserves some blame. But they're paying a price, and you have to know that. The reputations of Penn State and even State College are in the sewer, connected unbreakably to Jerry Sandusky, and that connection will remain at least as long as you and I live. Lots of us can't move on just yet. None of us will forget, ever.

But that doesn't address the issue of State College, and Penn State, and their utter reliance on Penn State football.

Yes, I get it, and I just addressed it -- the reliance on football created a culture that led to Joe Paterno, which led to Jerry Sandusky remaining free for 13 years after his evil bubbled to the surface in 1998.

But that reliance on the football program, as distasteful as it may be, is real -- and it's not going away. State College needs Penn State football. State College is Penn State football. An economic impact study by the university found that a season of seven home games generates roughly $40 million for the area within 25 miles of Beaver Stadium -- and that study was done in 1987, when the stadium seated 83,370. Today the capacity is 106,572. So start with $40 million, add another 23,000 fans -- factor in a quarter-century of inflation -- and you see my point. Without Penn State football, State College suffers.

Children suffered under Sandusky. I get that, and I'm crushed by it too. But making State College suffer now won't fix anything. It might mollify some in the pitchfork crowd, but that's all it would do. Canceling Penn State football for 2012 and beyond would cripple the city and surrounding areas. Unemployment would rise. So would foreclosures. In awful economic times like we've been facing, with State College doing like so many towns and trying to stay above water, is that really what anybody wants? To attach cinder blocks to this town's feet?

Maybe that is what people want. They want vengeance, and if too many people get hurt in the process, well, that's better than too few. Right?

It's wrong. If Penn State does away with football, it might as well cancel the rest of its athletic department. The football program generated a $53 million profit for the 2009-2010 school year, third most in the country according to Forbes, and those profits helped the school compete in 28 other sports, almost all of them unable to pay for themselves. How do college sports like lacrosse and baseball and track exist? They exist because of football.

You want to kill every sport at Penn State?

No. You don't. So put down your pitchfork, and maybe the headline-seeking NCAA will do the same. The NCAA hasn't decided yet whether the Sandusky scandal falls under its jurisdiction, but if the NCAA determines that what happened at Penn State violated its rules on ethics or institutional control, only one penalty would suffice: the death penalty.

That can't happen. Not for the sake of the Penn State community, a community which is not -- no matter how angrily anyone says otherwise -- accurately represented by the biggest football acolytes or the smallest Paterno apologists. And it can't happen for the people of State College, so many of whom need the football program to pay their bills.

Kill Penn State football? Come on. Think it through. That wouldn't prop up the right people -- but it would punish the wrong ones.


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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