Should Penn State Decline a Bowl Invite?
It was only a month ago that Penn State football fans were trying to understand how a quarterback-less team was having such a surprisingly successful season, and few envisioned a Big Ten title and New Year’s Day bowl game.
Now, as the Penn State football community prepares for the season finale in Madison, questions remain about to what bowl the Nittany Lions, now ranked 19th in the BCS standings, will be invited. The question few are considering is whether Penn State should play in any bowl game. Should the university trot out a squad on January 1 and further glorify a program which produces an athletics-first mindset that has dominated this university? Is it appropriate to further celebrate the triumphs of the season in light of the severity of the situation at home? Yet how can one justify penalizing completely innocent players and fans, and in the process further extend the dark cloud that sits over Penn State?
First, let’s look at why Penn State should embrace a potential bowl invitation. Independent of recent events, Penn State is having one of its best seasons in the past decade, and fans should relish the opportunity to see the team play in a prominent bowl game. Thousands of individuals have been diehard supporters of Penn State football; among them are hosts of students who chose to attend Penn State in part due to the football atmosphere here.
Is the message business as usual? Or must we show some restraint? It is not about a feeling of shame as Penn Staters, but rather a feeling of respect and reflection.
Why chastise the student-athletes and diehard fans who are blameless? Now that Penn State has taken swift action in response by firing Paterno, demoting Spanier, and giving administrative leave to Athletic Director Tim Curley, Gary Shultz, what better way to move beyond a trying time than to come together in support of a NCAA surprise success story? Despite a university-damning scandal rooted in the football program, in an odd way, that same program can serve as the unifying outlet to move beyond dark times.
Penn State has long championed an unblemished image, void of major violations. In the past two weeks the world has watched this façade crumble to pieces. The very core of our beliefs about Penn State University have come under scrutiny. Yet, while every bone in our bodies urges us to rally behind a quietly successful football team, and count me among those feeling this way, we can’t forget to stop and wonder if accepting a bid to a New Year’s Day bowl game is the best message this athletic department and university administration can send. The national spotlight will give Penn State students and administrators an opportunity to continue raising funds to support victims of sexual violence and in turn begin to amend our image.
In an effort to mitigate losses in the aftermath of the scandal, swift actions were taken to remove President Spanier and Coach Joe Paterno, despite local opposition and calls for further investigation. Decisive action was taken to separate the athletic program from Paterno. In the midst of an NCAA investigation, the national eye will be centered on Penn State. The Penn State Board of Trustees hasn’t shied away from decisive and polarizing action.
Immediately afterwards, many wondered if Penn State, let alone Joe Paterno, should finish the season. Wisely, Penn State decided to conclude the season as scheduled. Penn State had an obligation to its fans, the Nebraska, Ohio State, and Wisconsin fans, and the Big Ten conference.
But a potential bowl game is different. By defying conventional and monetary incentive, declining a bowl game would unquestionably send a sobering message that the university must take a step back after the regular season and reevaluate the place and influence of athletics.
Over the next two weeks, root for Penn State as I intend to, but remember to consider that beyond the initial excitement of a bowl game there lies a complexity of questions, ethics, and challenges. Penn State’s actions during these trying times will affect all of us for years to come. When someone looks at a Penn State diploma, will they envision a school that celebrated a Big Ten Championship and prominent bowl game following a scandal? Or a university who shouldered the blame and placed ethical responsibility above athletics? Can this be accomplished by preventing the current players and fans from embracing an opportunity they have worked tirelessly for? Is a bowl game the first step for Penn State to usher in an era of transparency while using the national event as a platform for abuse awareness?
These questions don’t come with a simple answer, but they’re ones we must consider. As Penn Staters we are all stakeholders in the Penn State reputation. What is your take? Share it with us in the comments section.