Tate: Paterno's role in scandal remains unclear
If a university's reputation becomes its brand, everything must be done to protect it.
Thus, in response to a national demand for justice, Penn State's board of trustees had no alternative but to dump Joe Paterno. He was the face of the franchise, his name more tightly linked to the school than any name at any school. It was through him that the Penn State brand blossomed in a positive manner.
Once that is tainted, and even if that sin was one of omission, the wagons must be circled and the blot removed.
It would have been far too awkward to see him on the field Saturday welcoming seniors for their final home game. He has become too polarizing, too radioactive, too much of a distraction.
So let's all agree that more is demanded of one so famous, of one so respected. It is now his misfortune, in the realm of public opinion, to be defined for what many consider his lowest moment. His brand is soiled.
As for Penn State itself, it's all about the cover-up. One sexual deviate can't destroy a school's reputation. If that predator is apprehended quickly, the smudge soon will disappear. It is only when high administrators fail to act that the school suffers. One ESPN critic went so far as to describe them as a "collection of cowards."
Chiming in, columnist Bill Plaschke wrote that "football's most in-control coach did nothing." And there was universal agreement.
It is here that I have a different take. I'm not sure Paterno fully understood what happened when Mike McQueary reported the incident involving Jerry Sandusky in the shower with a 10-year-old in 2002.
If we are to believe Paterno, who met with an upset McQueary the next day, the coach understood McQueary to be referring vaguely to "fondling" or "touching" or "horsing around." Paterno knew it was serious enough to report to his superior, but he apparently didn't understand it to be sodomy. He said as much.
So Paterno kicked it upstairs with the assumption it would be properly handled, and he wasn't in attendance when athletic director Tim Curley and administrator Gary Schultz sat down with McQueary 10 days later. There again, Curley said he didn't understand the actions to be sodomy. Curley twice stated a firm "No!" when queried by the grand jury.
We know that McQueary made it clear when he testified in front of that body, but we may never know the exact words that McQueary, then a 28-year-old graduate assistant, used in his sitdowns with first Paterno and then Curley and Schultz. And as the story got relayed up the ladder, who knows what the president heard?
In light of what happened after 2002, in nearly a decade of Sandusky's disgraceful activity, it becomes a sordid tale that reflects horribly on Penn State administrators. They could have stopped it, couldn't they? Why didn't they?
Paterno gets it now. But earlier this week, we're told the aging and somewhat-isolated Paterno had a hard time comprehending what was contained in the allegations. And there is the real possibility that Paterno was shielded from the rumors that surrounded Sandusky in recent years.
Clear thinkers agree Paterno should not coach Saturday. But I'm also not certain, beyond reasonable doubt, that he fully comprehended what McQueary was trying to relay in 2002. Furthermore, until there is evidence to the contrary, there is nothing to indicate Paterno had any awareness in recent years of what was ultimately related in the grand jury inquiry.
There's a game Saturday
Has there ever been an Illinois-Michigan game so swallowed up by surrounding events?
And yet, as we say too often, this game could be a turning point in determining the future of Illini football.
A victory would upgrade the UI in the bowl merry-go-round and alter the perception of Ron Zook's program.
A loss Saturday would extend the losing streak to four and multiply concerns about when it will end.
In a sold-out showdown, Michigan's advantage lies in its offensive line. With two exceptions — losses at Michigan State, 28-14, and at Iowa, 24-16 — the Wolverines have been dominant on attack. They scored 35 vs. Notre Dame, 58 vs. Minnesota, 42 at Northwestern and 36 vs. Purdue.
UI defensive boss Vic Koenning calls them "explosive at every position, with some of the nation's best players at the skill positions ... but the offensive line is probably their best. We had a pretty good defensive ranking until we played them last year (Michigan's 67-65 triple-overtime win)."
Countering this, the Illini conducted competition this week between redshirt freshman Alex Hill and junior Tyler Sands to possibly replace injured guard Hugh Thornton, up to now the team's best offensive lineman. At tackle, redshirts Michael Heitz and Simon Cvijanovic will continue to alternate. Fingers pointed toward the O-line as the Illini running game slipped of late, most notably limited to 82 yards rushing against Northwestern, 116 vs. Ohio State, 121 at Purdue and, showing improvement, 192 at Penn State.
These trends can change in a hurry. We just saw the Chicago Bears, who couldn't protect Jay Cutler earlier, beat Philadelphia without giving up a sack. We saw Northwestern hammer Nebraska for 25 first downs and 468 total yards. Illinois needs that kind of turnaround to keep pace with Michigan.
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.