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Kovacevic: NCAA must pursue death penalty

By Dejan Kovacevic | Trib Total Media

If football mattered too much, then it shouldn’t matter at all now.

In light of the Louis Freeh investigation report that dropped like an anvil this morning, the NCAA no longer has a choice but to aggressively pursue the so-called death penalty for Penn State football.

And the NCAA must do so independent of any other concern, any precedent. Because a case involving serial child rape and its cover-up has no other concern, no precedent.

The 267-page report took a while to download, even longer to absorb, so I started by searching for “Joe Paterno” — probably like most — and found it appeared on 69 pages.Among the references was evidence Paterno knew of the 1998 accusations of Jerry Sandusky molesting a child. That was the polar opposite of Paterno’s testimony to the grand jury and what he repeated to the Washington Post’s Sally Jenkins in the final interview of his life: “I never heard a thing.”

It casts into doubt everything Paterno said on this matter.

Freeh said Paterno “clearly followed” the 1998 case and that the notion he wasn’t aware was “completely contradicted by evidence.”

Step back a moment.

That was the former director of the FBI accusing Paterno of lying in a court of law.

And being right.

And that was Freeh stressing that Paterno never informed his assistant coaches about Sandusky’s behavior, never set up limitations to keep Sandusky away from children or the Lasch Building or dorm rooms during road trips, and, most powerfully, never took independent action after Mike McQueary told him of the 2001 shower incident.

In fact, in maybe his most powerful remark, Freeh pinpointed Paterno’s Feb. 26, 2001, conversation with three university principals — Graham Spanier, Tim Curley and Gary Schultz — as “critical” in the men’s burying of the shower incident.

Freeh fingered Paterno as the main culprit in enabling child rape!

Wow.

All of it.

Spanier, Curley and Schultz should be prosecuted with vigor.

It’s too late for Paterno, but he’s ruined. Bring down the statue, rename the library, melt the peachy ice cream, the whole deal. Nothing would reflect better on Penn State than if all of that happened right away.

But don’t hold your breath.

Jay Paterno, ever the loyal son, sadly downplayed the Freeh report as “just one opinion” and “a piece of the puzzle.”

A weepy-eyed Matt Millen, a Penn State alumnus and former NFL general manager, spent several hours on ESPN repeatedly saying “if the Freeh report is accurate,” and placing all the blame on Spanier.

The Big Ten Network didn’t air Freeh’s news conference at all.

Karen Peetz, chair of the Board of Trustees, talked a lot about “accountability,” but she never mentioned football. Other than to say, upon questioning, that the university’s honoring of Paterno is “something we need to discuss.”

Accountability doesn’t cross the white lines, I guess.

Only the blindest supporters, blind by choice, can dismiss or diminish this now. But judging from reaction on my blog, emails and Twitter, trust me, they’re still out there.

Their common argument was constructed like this:

1. Random point.

2. Second random point.

3. Hence, PLAY FOOTBALL.

Which leads me back to the death penalty.

I also counted no fewer than 11 pages on which the red-flag word “institutional” appears. That flag surely was sent flying by Freeh’s investigators to catch the attention of the NCAA, which applies the abstract concept of “loss of institutional control” as its main criteria for the death penalty.

Those 11 references cannot go ignored.

I don’t want to hear about loopholes in the bylaws, and I don’t care what lawyers were dissecting Thursday. It’s just a little safe to that covering up child rape qualifies as both a loss of institutional control and within the NCAA’s ethics clause. If the NCAA believes it’s right to impose the penalty, there’s no question it can. SMU is still the only school hit with it, and the corruption that drew that punishment looks like a cookie stolen from an open jar compared to Penn State.

If this doesn’t qualify for the death penalty, God help us on the day we find out what does.

I also don’t want to hear the tired line about how you “can’t punish these kids.”

When Enron fraudulently redirected millions of dollars, the company didn’t get off by simply firing those responsible. Other employees weren’t saved. That’s not how it works. Corporations, institutions and, yes, universities pay a joint price. There’s always collateral damage. Ohio State’s punishments for players accepting gifts in 2010, including a postseason ban, weren’t wiped away when Jim Tressel walked out. Urban Meyer and his players will still pay that price.

“These kids” at Penn State can play their football elsewhere, if it comes to that. Bill O’Brien and his staff can coach elsewhere. (I’d be stunned, incidentally, if a smart man like O’Brien didn’t have some sort of escape clause in his contract if this occurs.) If anyone is really seeking fairness in this situation for the current team — and not just looking to PLAY FOOTBALL — they should appeal to the NCAA that all student-athletes be allowed to transfer without limitations.

Penn Staters want to move on. I understand that. I empathize.

But this thinking that everything will be fine so long as football comes back … no, it won’t. It won’t be fine for the next program that loses institutional control and knows it won’t face the NCAA’s harshest punishment. And it won’t be fine for Penn State, which will never fully recover its brand without some form of real retribution.

Look at it this way: This cover-up of horrific crimes was aimed at making sure Penn State could continue to PLAY FOOTBALL. A failure to address football leaves the very goal of the cover-up indefensibly intact.

If the university and the tens of thousands who love it truly want to move on, it’s time to show football isn’t the priority.

And never should have been.

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