I’ll preface: I understand the anger over Rodney Erickson’s signing of the NCAA’s consent decree.
The sanctions are brutally unfair, unwarranted, and misguided, those involved with the football program at the time of their leveling deserved better, and the only thing consistent about the NCAA is its inconsistency.
Indeed, I think Erickson would be the first to tell you that Jess Tully and I did not take it easy on him during our interview in March. There were awkward pauses and throat-clearings when he didn’t capitalize on a chance to reclaim a narrative about his decision that had turned vitriolic.
“Well, I already said it was the toughest decision I’ve ever made to make. I can’t say a lot more than that,” Erickson told us on signing the consent decree. “It was a gut-wrenching decision that took place over the course of about a week. And, it is what it is.”
That said, given yesterday’s confirmation of what we already knew, I think it’s time for everyone to not only respect that, but to realize it was the right choice.
It’s a tough pill to swallow – agreeing to the worst sanctions in the history of the NCAA, in a document that seconded what the Freeh Report had erroneously said about our culture, is frustrating as hell. But now, almost two years later, it’s obvious that the alternative would have been an immensely worse choice.
A withheld Erickson signature would have meant, at the least, a suspension for the football program. That, as far as we know, is a fact. Hypotheticals about court battles are only hypotheticals. Fighting such a matter in court, win or lose, would have suspended the football program, and I think that fact has become forgotten sometime since. The NCAA also might have been bluffing, but calling it would have been a majorly imbalanced risk on Erickson’s part. Either way, that’s another hypothetical.
Now, ask yourself: With all that this football team has done in the last two years, would withholding a signature on that consent decree have been worth it?
Really, think about that for a bit. Think about Penn State without football. Think about all the memories you would have lost: Mike Mauti going bananas at Illinois, Matt McGloin’s weird celebration thing during Northwestern, the overtime Wisconsin win, the Michigan game, the stunning upset of Wisconsin, countless more that are only special to you. Can you, whether student or alum, honestly say you would trade those experiences and more untold ones for merely a chance at no sanctions?
I won’t opine on whether Penn State would have won its hypothetical legal battles, for I don’t pretend to know enough about the law to offer a reasonable take there. I do know, without a figment of a doubt, that I wouldn’t exchange the unparalleled euphoria I felt after the Michigan game for a chance at circumventing the sanctions. The football program’s resilience through these sanctions has been nothing short of legendary to this community. The pride it has reignited for us outweighs the grief the sanctions caused.
An easy counterpoint to what I’ve said: It’s not the sanctions that incense the Penn State community so much as the validation the consent decree gave the Freeh Report. I rebut with this: Rodney Erickson is an intelligent man, having spent half of his life in academia. Putting his signature on that document was the toughest decision he’s ever made. If you think for one second that he and his colleagues in Old Main did not consider every possible implication and consequence of signing the decree, you need to think about this situation much more deeply. On one hand, Erickson had rebutting the findings of a report his own university commissioned, risking the livelihood of many State College businesses, suspending the football program, and devoting a plethora of resources into legal battles. On the other, he had agreeing to both indictments the vast majority of the community abhors and the worst sanctions in NCAA history. His decision was as lose-lose as they come; he chose the lesser of the two evils.
Penn State is as strong a university and community as it’s ever been. We know who we are. Words on paper have not defined us. Never will they.
To some of you reading this, I’m sure I could have constructed the most airtight, bulletproof argument imaginable and you’d still disagree with it. I respect your passion for Penn State, but it’s misguided.
At my grandmother’s 85th birthday gathering about a month ago, I was talking with a cousin of mine who graduated from Syracuse. Football came up, and, busting my chops, he said about the Penn State game, “I can’t believe we lost to a team that had nothing to play for.”
At least we played.