Ferentz, Mason Misguided

The NCAA announced Tuesday that it was reducing penalties levied last year on Penn State as the result the Sandusky child sexual abuse case. Iowa President Sally Mason and Football Coach Kirk Ferentz supported the move. Their view was terribly misguided.

Kirk Ferentz's love for Penn State grew over time. He dreamed of playing in "Happy Valley" after graduating from his Western Pennsylvania high school and considered walking onto the team before heading to Connecticut.

Ferentz married Mary Hart, the sister of high school teammate, Kevin Hart. Their father, Gerry Hart, played prep football in Brooklyn with longtime Nittany Lion Coach Joe Paterno.

The family connection allowed Ferentz to get to know one of his idols off of the field. That relationship grew as he entered the coaching profession and eventually competed against Paterno as Iowa's head coach.

"I was a young guy in awe of him," Ferentz said in a September 2010 interview. "I'm past 50 and still in awe of him. I had such great respect as a young person growing up in that part of the country."

Ferentz added in a 2011 media session: "I don't think there are many coaches who have affected college sports more than Coach Paterno, in any sport. One guy on campus here, Dan Gable, pretty small class that he's in. Throw out names like Bear Bryant and John Wooden, there aren't many. It's a pretty small discussion."

Ferentz didn't know at that time what would come to light a year later. Paterno's legacy was shattered by his turning a blind eye to his longtime defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky, sexually assaulting children.

The NCAA, rightfully so, hammered Penn State for what amounted to being the poster child for a lack of institutional control. Tuesday, about 14 months after imposing those sanctions, the governing body for college athletics announced it would be reducing them.

Ferentz felt like it was the right move.

"It seemed like a lot of people that shouldn't have paid a price, paid a price," Iowa's coach said. "That's just my outsider looking in. I'm looking at the players and coaches, I guess. I've got a pretty narrow scope on that one."

Ferentz describes well the argument for the NCAA's actions here. He also makes an excellent point by admitting he's not seeing the big picture.

In the interest of full discloser, this story is personal. There's bias based on perspective.

Time heals all wounds but not always completely. What the NCAA did on Tuesday was another slap in the face to victims of atrocious crimes that occurred for decades behind the veil of a powerful football program. The punishment originally handed down was appropriate and a small consolation for a group of innocent children, many of whom had their lives destroyed in the name of a game.

People attempting to separate Sandusky and Paterno's actions from Penn State football are either blind or in denial. The powerful assistant used his position to set up unsuspecting victims. The even mightier head coach influenced a cover-up that could not happen in most walks of life.

One wonders if this move by the NCAA falls in line with many decisions ruling big-time college athletics these days. It's about helping to rebuild a once-proud program that makes a whole lot of money for many people.

The lifted sanctions give Penn State back players to make it more competitive. A better program in State College lines the pockets of the NCAA and the Big Ten. The conference, alone, could not have relieved its member school here.

Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany, the most powerful man in his position nationally, likely, at the very least, nudged the NCAA. In August, he praised the progress being made in State College since the sanctions. Tuesday, the powers that be said the decision was based on Penn State's progress.

When the punishment was levied on the Nittany Lions, few people outside of some jaded folks connected to that school objected. An unprecedented crime this heinous deserved it. University of Iowa President Sally Mason was among those people.

Now, 14 short months later, the Sandusky case has been out of the regular news cycle for some time. The iron was hot for the people in charge of not only college athletics, but many in higher education as a whole, to address their own interests. Mason was on board Tuesday.

The "progress" made in State College should be expected. Decent human conduct calls for adults to protect children, not rape them. When it does tragically happen, the least you should be able to expect from a major institution built around education is to make it stop, immediately.

What is happening at Penn State these days should not be rewarded. It's what we hope is the norm.

The argument that current players and coaches in the program don't deserve punishment for others' actions is superficial. The people that have signed up there since the Sandusky story broke knew about the sanctions or had an idea they could be harsh. The innocent athletes already at Penn State before the news came out were given the freedom to transfer without restriction and some of them did.

The NCAA did not say when delivering the original sanctions that PSU could reduce them by making "progress" in running its institution humanely, let alone doing it 14 months later. Doing so would have painted it has lenient. It was coming to the defense of the abused.

In the end, the tail wagged the dog. The original punishment should have been designed to de-emphasize a football program that became the face of an institution run amuck. Fourteen months later, it's back to business as usual.

Coach Bill O'Brien is doing an admirable job keeping his team from drowning as he prepares for what up until Tuesday would have been real tough days arriving from a loss of scholarships. He now has a life preserver that should carry Penn State well leading up to the expiration of the other sanctions.

Ferentz sympathizes with O'Brien not only as a head coach of a Big Ten program but because the latter mentored Kirk's son, Brian, in New England. He ran the offense while the young Ferentz managed the tight ends.

"Needless to say I think that whole thing was a bad deal and so hopefully some steps are being taken to make it a little more fair," Kirk said on Tuesday's conference media call.

By all accounts, Ferentz lives an honorable life and is a good father and husband. He and Mary care a great deal about children's causes as evidenced by their philanthropy.

No way was Ferentz condoning what happened at Penn State while Sandusky roamed free. He was looking forward for a coach he likes and a program he's long admired. Unfortunately, there were too many people in power viewing it the same way and as a result they re-victimized victims.

It would have been nice if some of the decision makers or people with a public voice would have spoken up for those who lacked power to do so for many years. It was another blown opportunity in the saddest of cases.

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