FanPost

Why I think we are, where we are.


Everyone has written this Fanpost (except me). I get it. So feel free to disregard it. I originally intended to bury it in the Fanposts, but I couldn't get the format to work out, so here it goes. It's also too long. It's based upon my thoughts over the past few months, and I wrote it now because the recent explanations of how the Board of Trustee's worked led me to believe that I could finally put something together that was based upon knowledge and facts, rather than "if this, then what" speculation. Some speculation is impossible to avoid, but I tried to frame it in the context of what has been revealed to date.

As this gets further and further out from zero hour, some of the information that has come forward has been helpful (the article about the BOTs) some wildly hyped, and not terribly telling (the preliminary hearing) but one thing that I have noticed, is that while old information gets rehashed nearly daily, not much new has come out.

The lack of new information is good and bad, I think it means that it is unlikely that we'll ever hear a Joe Paterno side of the story that makes us feel better. I also think that the nonsensical "Second Mile as brothel story", which was wholly invented by Mark Madden in Pittsburgh, is also very unlikely to have any legs. I think we probably know about 85 to 90 percent of what we’re ever going to know.

Aside from Jerry Sandusky being a walking episode of SVU, what do you think caused the problem?

After reading the "standing orders" of the Board of Trustees (hereinafter BOT) and how they related to the communication and dissemination between the University Administration and the BOT, I'm going to go with a catastrophic failure of Orwellian Bureaucracy.

We don’t know whether or not Joe Paterno followed up. But based on a review of the standing orders we know that if he had, he would have met with substantial resistance within the Administration, and a flat stone wall had he gone to the BOT. Earlier I was quick to blame Curley, or even Schultz, but the clear (and almost sole authority) on an issue of this magnitude rests in Spanier’s office. That’s not my opinion, that’s University policy, as set forth by the BOT in their own "standing orders".

The system worked as well as it was designed to, but appears to have been failed by increasingly watered down accounts of Mike McQueary’s report. The system is supposed to work like a circuit, moving the information along the line to the President , it did. However, it’s obvious that too much of McQuerary’s original report leaked in the transmission (I’m sure there is an engineering term for it).

Moreover, when everybody follows a policy, and the wrong result is reached, I think you have to look at the policy. I think that applying this policy to the Sandusky Scandal is like trying to retrofit a Mack truck for use in space travel. It’s clear that nobody ever considered this eventuality, and why would you? By definition, the vast majority of the University Community is of legal age. I do not think that it is fair to have assumed that there would be a policy in place to deal with something like this, especially how it initially presented.

So what about Joe Paterno he absolutely should have been fired/retained, right?

Okay, let’s think about what we know, in the context of the BOT "standing orders".

A] As to Joe Paterno’s role in the circuit. He performed it, and moreover, none of the leakage that caused the overall failure can be attributed to Paterno. McQueary admits that he gave Paterno a watered down version of events. Paterno had a meeting with Curley within 24 hours of the report, and finally, he put McQueary in a room with Schultz and Curley. What Paterno was told is a "red herring", in that McQueary’s reports to Schultz and Curley (who are then supposed to subsequently report to Spanier) is the operative report. A huge part of this controversy stems from McQueary’s decision to talk with some of his "mentors" before taking a final course of action. I think that McQueary approached Paterno at least as much as a mentor, and to be told what to do next. Paterno acted in that way, and put McQueary in a position to make the report directly to the relevant superiors. However, McQueary would have been just as right to go to Curley directly.

In short, in the context of a set of rules that were clearly not designed to handle this type of situation, Joe Paterno did exactly what he was supposed to do. But here is the controversy…

B ] The public perception that Joe Paterno was a essentially a fail safe switch that was entitled/designed and indeed obligated to override all other actors if there was a problem;

  • Initially, this is clearly not the case. There is no "unless Joe Paterno says so" exception that I am aware of. Joe Paterno’s position is in the context of the University structure. Many have argued, "that’s bull-shit, Joe Paterno hired his boss". Yes he did, but that’s not relevant, because Curley’s place in the organizational structure remains above Paterno, and it is Curley, not Paterno, that is responsible to make the report to Spanier. Further, I would argue that Paterno "hired his boss" for exactly this type of situation. Joe Paterno (as is Mike McQueary) is a football coach, not a University Administrator, and this matter would have been properly handled by University Administration under the best of circumstances.
  • I think that there is a fundamental misunderstanding in the difference between the Athletic Director and the Football Coach. I think it’s based on two things, one, once upon a time it was not uncommon for the Football Coach to have a dual role (it is still common at the High School level) and two, Joe Paterno was the Athletic Director at Penn State (although that was more than 30 years ago). The premise of the Athletic Director being a University Administrator is so that there is a clear demarcation that the athletic department is beholden to the University President, rather than being an autonomous organization. As a result, I think there is a relevant connection to the NCAA’s investigation in to "lack of institutional control". I believe that had Joe Paterno attempted to unilaterally discipline Sandusky, it would have actually flown in the face of his superiors, lending credence to the theory that football team does whatever it wants, rather that it being beholden to University Policy. Despite the fact that their policy ultimately failed.
  • I believe that it’s unfair to demand that somebody take an action so wildly out of the chain of command. Had he, it would have been clear grounds for termination. Additionally, how was he supposed to know to exercise this power? There is no obligation for superiors to report down the chain of command. This means that Joe Paterno would never have expected to receive reports from anybody about this situation, because nobody was obligated to give them to him. Given the organizational structure, "I didn’t hear anything after that" is exactly what you’d expect.

Of course, all that being said, on November 8th the house was on fire and we were arguing over which buckets of water to throw on it. Right, wrong or indifferent is nuts to think that Paterno could have finished off the season as head coach, and that’s notwithstanding the fact that he has lung cancer. I don’t think that’s fair, but "fair" isn’t the sole arbiter of what needs to happen. Also, I think it’s pre-mature to think that the University is using him as a scape-goat, they haven’t accused him of any wrong doing. Their failure as it relates to Joe Paterno is a failure to come forward and debunk that Joe Paterno as "fail-safe" reporter theory. But the University's investigation remains pending, and we’ll see how it ends. The media is an external force in this situation that Penn State can’t control, and it is acting in ways that are forcing Penn State to make decisions it wishes it didn’t have to. That sucks, but it’s a recognition of reality that we all have to live with.

But the BOT, Rodney Erickson and especially Dave Joyner (collectively "those guys") are all ass-holes right?

I can’t go there yet. It’s impossible for me to hate the "I know what I would have done" backlash as it relates to what Joe Paterno did and didn’t do in 2002, yet be dead certain what I would have done as it relates to firing him in 2011. That’s a logical inconsistency that doesn’t fly with me, but that doesn’t mean I’m on board with what they did.

I think that those guys were in a tough spot and had to deal with two separate and distinct contingencies. The rabble from without, and the rabble from within. Concessions to either contingency make the other contingency enraged, so in short, it’s a perfect shit storm of "no possible way to win".

If you triage the situation in November 2011, step one is take this from a certified 11 out of 10 on the media fire-storm scale and try to get it at least back on the charts. Is it possible that a more public disavowment of Curley and Schultz (as opposed to letting them step down in near silence on a Sunday night) might have moved the meter a little more? Possibly. Perhaps, an explanation of the "standing orders" and Spanier’s responsibility thereto might have helped as well. But to what end? Do you essentially admit fault to save an 85 year old football coach who, at best, has four more games left? And it probably doesn’t work anyway? You may not like the decision, but you’ve got to at least see the logic.

Complaining about the mechanics of how Paterno was fired is similar to complaining about the wrapping paper on a shit sandwich. Yeah, that sucked too, but it’s hardly the point.

So now what, do you have any ideas?

A few. Child Sexual Assault is pretty unforeseeable on a University Campus, but sexual assault is not only foreseeable, it’s quite common. It happens everywhere, it’s under reported everywhere, and it’s misunderstood everywhere. It’s a pretty touchy subject, loaded with "he said, she said" and vast expanses of grey area. So my initial suggestions are two fold;

  • First, a new department of University Policing and security should be created. The head of this department reports directly to the University President, and should be required to issue quarterly reports, directly the BOT as it relates to any and all criminal activity on campus.
  • Second, within that department is what I’m going to call Penn State SVU. Every University employee, down to the friggin’ residence hall R.A.’s should be required to report any incident of sexual assault or mistreatment that comes to their attention to PSU-SVU within 12 hours.

Second, I think that if by the Blue/White game nothing has come out to further implicate Joe Paterno in this, he should be reinstated has Head Coach effective the date of his firing, with his resignation being accepted as of January 2, 2012. It should be accompanied by a commendation for meritorious service for his 60 years at the school, and a manner of recognition that failures at the University level contributed to a scandal that harmed him a great deal.

Some final thoughts?

9/11 wasn’t an inside job, Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, and the Sandusky Scandal was caused by a bureaucratic SNAFU that was brought on by a long chain of mistakes and goofy facts that are unique to Penn State but that I don’t think were caused by evil intent. In all three instances, you’re confronted with a bad event, and a desire to make it more than a lone nut, or poorly constructed University standard operating procedures.

There is a show on the History Channel called "Engineering Disasters", and it explained how something like sports arena collapsing under the weight of snow could be allowed to occur. In most of the instances, you have a mistake, coupled with opportunities to correct the mistake that get missed, coupled with bad luck. So it goes with this disaster.

I think the criminal cases will more than likely be resolved with an unsatisfying whimper, most likely a plea to a reduced charge, something nominal. What will dictate this is a final determination of what the cause of the "loss of signal" between McQueary and Spanier was.

I think Schultz’s story will be "I am the cops" and "I investigated, and didn’t find anything to substantiate the claim". Ironically (possibly unfortunately) Sandusky backs this up, he said Schultz called him and he gave him the name of the kid. To date, the 2002 incident lacks a complaining witness, if there wasn’t one then, what do you do? Ban him from bringing kids to the facilities and give the Second Mile a heads up is at least a start. And an opportunity that the Second Mile pretty clearly fumbled.

I can’t speak to the failures at the Second Mile, except to say, they seem to be exponentially greater than ours. Penn State was in no position to control access to kids, only to it’s facilities, which it did (no subsequent witness or victim has alleged that Sandusky hurt them on Campus after 2002, which makes sense given that Sandusky was operating on a pretty high level).

At the end of it all, I think it’s much easier to take responsibility for something when you know it’s your responsibility. Penn State is guilty of fostering an environment of no responsibility, and that’s a pretty bad thing.

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