The NCAA makes up for a bad call

Joe Paterno is dead. We can assume that, to the extent that final justice exists, he is getting whatever he deserves. His long time defensive coordinator and convicted predator Jerry Sandusky is in jail, where he can’t hurt anyone. Justice for him is delayed but inevitable.

The NCAA was right to reinstate the Penn State football wins which were stripped from the program after it was revealed Sandusky as a serial pedophile. It was a trivial penalty to begin with because the NCAA had no place in a scandal of this magnitude.

The scandal that rocked State College was unusual for big-time college football. This wasn’t under-the-table money to encourage recruits, or extra perks for current players; this was a legitimate question about whether a former coach was using his charity to abuse children – and whether the leaders of Penn State, including Paterno, swept it under the rug.

The sports czars have no authority over what was, and is, a criminal matter, but their actions are understandable. When big news breaks, people tend to look for immediate action. Penn State fired Paterno quickly and tore a statue of him down, despite little understanding of how or if he was involved. The NCAA stripped Penn State of its wins from 1998 to 2011, despite little understanding of how or if the school had moved to cover up Sandusky’s abuses.

But in a situation like this, that the scandal’s main actors are associated with the football program is irrelevant. Ultimately, Sandusky and any enablers had to answer to law enforcement, and Penn State’s board of trustees had to decide if the failures in leadership necessitated changes in leadership. The NCAA deals with sports, which really isn’t all that important.

Answering the Sandusky allegations with a football-related response doesn’t give the situation the attention and gravity it deserves. But I’m sure it made some people at the NCAA headquarters feel like they accomplished something.

What does Manti Te’o owe you?

NBC News has “9 baffling questions about the Manti Te’o girlfriend hoax.”  They forgot #10: Why so serious?

ESPN Radio’s Mike Greenberg has been incredulous that Notre Dame is standing behind its star.  Sports Illustrated’s front page this morning dissects Te’o’s interviews about his now-fake girlfriend.

Morning drive time radio shows joking about it?  That makes sense.  Ditto for the Te’oing internet meme.  It’s a bizarre story, and the jokes practically write themselves, and it’s funny to talk about.  It’s also interesting to follow, as each revelation makes the story that much weirder.  But getting to the bottom of what Te’o knew and when shouldn’t win anyone a Pulitzer; it’s definitely not worth a crusade.

It doesn’t matter whether he knew or not.  It doesn’t matter when he knew.  If Notre Dame has some egg on their face for supporting their player, it will not lead to a lack of enrollment.  (It may drive away recruits who fear that, even playing for a national college football powerhouse, they can’t do better than an imaginary girlfriend – but that’s another story.)

Te’o owes no one an explanation, other than the NFL teams which are his prospective future employers assuming he enters the draft as planned.  They will be reasonably and rightfully curious about his integrity and mental state.  That’s part of the usual pre-draft evaluation, though NFL draft history tells us that the bars for both qualities are not always very high.

On the other hand, a sports reporter who had written some glowing human interest puff piece on the tragedies in Te’o’s life might feel duped when it turned out to be a fake.  It made for great copy at the time – surely, ESPN and others enjoyed the ratings/pageviews bump for tugging at the viewers’ heartstrings.  If your job was to research, write, and present true stories, wouldn’t you bristle when it was revealed that you didn’t check the facts and you didn’t question conventional wisdom when it sounded a little too perfect?

Despite all the “unanswered questions,” at least we know where the sanctimony comes from.

(Sidebar: For competitive purposes, the NCAA may want to think about the way it crowns its champion.  In the week and a half since the nominal championship game, there’s been more talk about the players’ girlfriends than the actual blowout.  Good thing there’s a playoff system on the horizon.)


How one Florida Gator scored a PR win

The University of Florida looked putrid in a victory over Miami of Ohio on Saturday (college football is the only sport where a 22-point victory can be called putrid with a straight face).  Their offense could not get into a rhythm, in part because newly converted center Mike Pouncey kept snapping the ball down around quarterback John Brantley’s feet. Since Brantley, like most Division I-A quarterbacks, throws with his arm, this was one of the big storylines on Sunday.

On Monday, ESPN Radio’s Scott Van Pelt reported something unusual: Pouncey was available for media interviews.  According to Van Pelt, Sports Information Directors tend to shield student athletes who have had rough games from press interviews.  But Pouncey calmly answered questions and took the blame for the team’s disappointing performance.  And he didn’t give ESPN the exclusive, also sharing his mea culpa with Florida papers like the Miami (of Florida) Herald:

Showing the maturity of a valued team leader, Florida center Mike Pouncey took the blame for his offense’s unflattering start to the 2010 season… After the game, Pouncey said he planned to arrive at UF’s football facility “early in the morning” Sunday to begin correcting his shotgun snaps. When asked whether his hands were injured, Pouncey said they were not; rather, he said the ball was slipping off his fingertips.

So what will the announcers talk about next week?  Probably the fact that Pouncey is a stand-up guy.  Sure, there will be questions about Pouncey’s technique, but none about his intelligence, commitment, or fortitude.  If he keeps snapping worm burners, the assumption will be that he should return to his original position at guard and that he simply doesn’t have the physical ability to snap the ball, despite trying his hardest.  There would not be loud whispers that he’s psyched out by the pressure of performing.

(And it’s worth noting that Pouncey will probably get the lion’s share of attention this week – taking some of the heat off the rest of the underperforming offense and endearing himself to his teammates even more.)

It helps that Pouncey has a track record of success to point to.  More than that, though, the way he handled his failures honestly and proactively will win him the benefit of the doubt heading into next week’s game – and the best chance to turn those failures into successes.