How might the Penn State shockwaves affect college football in the future?

While there has been universal disgust and revulsion over what has happened at Penn State, there has been less discussion on the ramifications for the entire sport of college football, which I believe will be considerable.

The Freeh report was clear: This was a CULTURE problem, first and foremost. What about the Penn State culture is different than the culture at Ohio State or Texas or Southern Cal or Alabama or, yes, Florida State? Was the idea that the football program is special and deserves all sorts of dispensations unique to Happy Valley? Have there not been “untouchable” and revered icons in Tuscaloosa or South Bend or Gainesville? Is State College the only place where the truth and morality were suspended to protect the program?

I think we all know the answers to those questions.

I believe the shockwaves from what happened at Penn State will travel far past the outskirts of State College and the state lines of Pennsylvania and will spread from coast to coast, changing the landscape of college sports.


A couple of reasons:

1) High-ranking administrators will likely go to jail for what has happened. Nothing gets the attention of OTHER high-ranking administrators like the prospect of going to jail like their colleagues.

b) There has always been a tug-of-war between the athletics and academic sides of college institutions. Lately, that has been a lopsided battle, won by the athletics side, flush with revenue streams that drown out the cries of academia. I believe you will see the academic/administration side of that tug-of-war, emboldened by what has been revealed about the culture of big-time college football, reassert itself. These types of divisions also exist on boards of trustees. There are those driven by athletic success, but also factions that come from other perspectives – academics, etc.

The result of this is going to be an enhanced hyper-vigilance regarding ethics in sports. How might this play out?

A couple of possibilities:

1) I expect to see more suspensions/dismissals. The “team rules” violations of the past (usually involving drug tests) will be less likely to not “count” against the numbers of “strikes” against a player. Again, I can see presidents and administrative HR types getting more involved in these decisions and saying, in effect, “I’m not going to let one pot-smoking punk off the hook and have it come back on me some day that we had a culture of looking the other way.”

b) I expect to see a default toward the most severe punishment for a players. The days of suspensions conveniently falling on cupcake games will be over for a while.

iii) I expect to see a movement soon to further raise academic standards. I don’t know what this will look like, but I predict it is coming.

D) I predict there will be big changes in state laws regarding campus police forces. These have been revealed for what they are – state actors with all the powers of arrest/apprehension/use of force but without the accountability to the public of other law enforcement. One of the under-told tragedies of the Penn State story is that the campus police was effectively in the pocket of the president and conspired to keep initial investigations out of the public view.

five) I think there will be a number of other changes to the college sports landscape that I can’t anticipate, but that increase the accountability for the athletics side.

Now, I’m not naïve enough to believe that this climate will continue indefinitely. With every game and season that passes, the pressure to win will increase and the Penn State scandal will be further in the rear view mirror. But in the near-term, I think you will see an impact. And, to be honest, I’m not sure that is not a good thing.

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