I say what I’m about to say without in any way diminishing the hurt and wrong done to the innocent kids by the people in charge of the Penn State football program. All of our hearts go out to them and it’s very easy for me to go from shock over the news to outright anger.
However, taking a step back, I simply want to look at the business issues that are raised by this nightmare as it relates to the Penn State brand.
The AP just released a story saying that Joe Paterno would retire at the end of this season. As a brand, this is akin to bobbing the dog’s tail an inch at a time to save it from pain.
The Penn State brand has been as pure as vanilla ice cream over the years (and sometimes as exciting as vanilla ice cream as well). Everything from its famous, simple black football shoes to its unadorned white helmets speaks to austerity and simplicity. They were without scandal in a tumultuous sports world.
I remember Joe Pa once saying (and getting in trouble for it) that he did not want to leave coaching in the hands of the Jackie Sherrills of the world (referring to the highly successful and controversial Pittsburgh and Texas A&M coach). He claimed to hold his program (and the university) to higher standards.
So, OK, now we know there was deep trouble in paradise. It turns out that Happy Valley was more like the Garden of Eden after the temptation by the serpent than it was the simple garden without a blemish that we all wanted to believe.
Well, Penn State, the blush is off the rose and you will be judged as a brand by how vigorously you do the right thing today. To believe the AP story, the powers at the university have decided that the bruises on their vaunted program are superficial and will fade away at the end of the season — when Paterno exits.
They could not be more wrong.
He was the man in charge and needs to be held to the squeaky clean standards he himself set over the years as he spoke about those “most important youngsters” in his charge. Instead of moving on now, Penn State has apparently taken the easy road and are simply pretending he is retiring at the end of this season.
But the troubles won’t go away. Fans at the rest of Penn State’s away games will make sure of that. The talk of a bowl game and a possible Big 10 championship will be charged with talks of pedophiles, scandals and cover-ups.
I ask a simple question of those supposedly guarding the Penn State brand: If his lack of action and control warrants his dismissal (let’s call a spade a spade here) at the end of the year, surely it would be a clearer statement to send him out now? What are you saving by keeping him on? His honor? A dignified retirement? University prestige? Surely all of that is gone and continues to erode until the head is chopped off the snake.
Be a brand. Stand for something. Restore our faith that Penn State does things the right way.