Thursday, December 01, 2011

An Urbanist's View of The Penn State Scandal

The following opinion is my own and may not be shared by other posters to this blog.

Most likely you have heard of this.

From Sports Illustrated

"For a prominent university, Penn State is remarkably isolated, nestled in the hinterlands of Pennsylvania, six hours from the nearest conference rival and three hours from a major city. (As many learned last week, the impenetrability is heightened by a status that exempts PSU from meaningful state open-records laws. Many documents related to the Sandusky case, such as e-mails between university officials, are not subject to public disclosure.) Like Russian nesting dolls, there are levels of isolation within Penn State, the innermost of which is the football team, which has separate facilities from the rest of the athletic programs and a lavish training facility all its own."

Here, the co-writer, talks more about the impact of isolation on Penn State.

Further on in the same article.

Healing will be far less swift an hour down the Nittany Valley in State College. While the crisis was unprecedented in its severity, the Penn State management was -- again, evidence of the school's insularity -- staggeringly clumsy. Press conferences were scheduled and then abruptly canceled. Remarks were tone-deaf. Spanier all but ordered his own firing when he declared his "unconditional" support for Curley and Schultz. When various administrators expressed shock at last week's revelations, even though Sandusky had been suspected multiple times and The Patriot-News had reported in March on the grand jury investigation, it came across as more than a little disingenuous.

From a side article in the same issue: "A place apart".

"The idyllic physical setting and the familial spirit of Penn State cut another way: It is a deeply insular place with concentrated power. Every character in the tragedy seemed to be a longtime Penn Stater. Paterno was there 61 years; Sandusky's association with the school began in 1963; Curley grew up in State College and has served 18 years as AD; vice president Gary Schultz served the school for 40 years; Mike McQueary grew up in State College and has been on staff for 11 years; Bradley has been on staff for 33 years; Jay Paterno, Joe's son, has been on staff for 17 years; Spanier taught at Penn State as far back as 1973. Sandusky, Bradley, Curley, Schultz, McQueary and Jay Paterno all attended Penn State as undergraduates. That people returned to or stayed so long at Penn State spoke to its appeal and its small-town values."

Another article, quotes former sportscaster and writer Myron Cope, who made this comment about Penn State in his biography.

"I particularly irritated Penn Staters by accusing Joe [Paterno] of excessive piety. You see, for many years he seemed bent upon casting Penn State as an academic facsimile of Harvard and his football players as model citizens (when in fact some of them told me they received the benefits of rural isolation—no major newspaper there to snoop—and a friendly police force)".

Tragically, another legendary coach and sports program is implicated in a very similar situation and cover up in Syracuse. While Syracuse, was once a fairly major manufacturing center, it now seems as if the university is the major force in town.

By way of extreme contrast, let's look back at a huge scandal in college basketball in the early 1950's.

The earthshaking scandals of 1951, which eventually reached to seven schools and 32 players around the country, actually erupted on Jan. 17, 1951 when Henry Poppe and Jack Byrnes of the previous year's Manhattan team plus three fixers: Cornelious Kelleher and brothers Benjamin and Irving Schwartzberg, who were bookmakers and convicted felons, were booked on bribery and conspiracy charges. All were in violation of section 382 of the penal code, the bill passed by the New York State legislature in 1945, which established as illegal an attempt to bribe a participant in any sporting event, amateur or professional. Poppe and Byrnes actually "had done business" with Kelleher in the 1949-50 season and received $50 a week during the off season of that year plus $3,000 to insure Manhattan lost games by the point margin to Siena, Santa Clara and Bradley in Madison Square Garden.

Byrnes and Poppe also received an additional $2,000 each to go over the point margin in games with St. Francis College of Brooklyn and New York University.

Ever even heard of this- corruption case involving masses of players and fixed games? One reason it's forgotten is that college basketball at the time was far from the big time sport of today. The other reason is it centered around colleges in NYC, where life did not revolve around these schools.

All of the CCNY schools de-emphasised sports and dropped into division III. Life went on. Could something like that even be considered in a place like State College?

Without, going into too much detail, I do think that there's something very unhealthy about major universities being so far removed from the world and I do think this was a major factor in both instances.

Penn State cannot shrink and or cut off it's major sports programs because there just isn't much else to do in State College. Incredibly, many students who were not athletes named it as the main reason for attending the school. Not surprisingly this put the program beyond critical review.

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