Lions' Pride: Penn State Still Mixes Football and Academics

This isn't Super Bowl media days - just an August practice - Rich Barnes-US PRESSWIRE

Would the Grand Experiment live beyond Joe Paterno? The 2012 Penn State Football team answered with a thunderous 'yes' that ought to echo off the dim, thick, self-aggrandizing cranial walls of Mark Emmert's oversized head.

I believe in Penn State. I believe in the academic diversity of Penn State...the people here, the faculty, the students, the passion that they have for football, the ability to get a meaningful degree, to graduate from Penn State and make something of your life." - new Head Coach Bill O'Brien, from his January 8th, 2012 introductory press conference

What's most important - winning, or graduating? Every coach in America will say 'both' at his introductory press conference, or during the off-season, when there's little immediately at stake. But no two things on Earth are ever exactly equal, and the critical differences can't be uncovered without the blazing iron furnace of adversity and pressure.

So when Bill O'Brien stepped to the podium a little more than a year ago and proclaimed his devotion to education, I took him at his word - but mentally waited to see the results. Call it a trust but verify approach. And when the NCAA sanctions were detonated six months later; and Illini coaches appeared in blaze orange from behind every elm tree on Old Main, forcing BO'B to re-recruit 105 guys already on campus about to enter fall camp; and after the squad started the season Oh-fer-two....well, I figured that the adversity and pressure had arrived in spades. How much hotter could things really get - ever? The surface of the sun would struggle to reach the temperatures present in BO'B's office, and that heat would be more than enough to separate any impurities from a 'both-at-once' answer, so long as they didn't evaporate the entire length of University Drive.

University Drive remains, and the adversity alchemy clearly did its work as well. Based upon this recent press release from Penn State, Joe Paterno's Grand Experiment lives on, and is thriving:

  • The 2012 squad broke Penn State's record for Graduation Success Rate with 91%, tied for 7th among all 120 FBS schools;
  • The Federal graduation rate of 93% was another record, and cleared the FBS average by 33 points;
  • A program record 28 team members earned Academic All Big-Ten amidst the distractions of last season; and
  • 38 of a record 51 team members who earned at least a 3.0 cumulative GPA will return for 2013, including a record 17 true freshmen, as well as First Team All Big Ten performers TE Kyle Carter and WR Allen Robinson.

Most any other coach, staff and team would have crumbled. They should have crumbled. That they broke several records for a program distinguished by the records and achievements it set - simply incredible. Congratulations Coach O'Brien, staff, and the unforgettable 2012 football team. And thank you.

Now go do it again.

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