Recently, a friend and I were talking about how we would react if a scandal of the Penn State or Baylor calibur happened at our alma maters. Obviously, it would be a very hard pill to swallow. Of course I would want justice to be served (whether that be firing everyone and/or all wins taken away), but I would be left with questions. How could someone let this happen? When did we decide to compromise the values of the general population of the campus? Why were people too scared to do anything about the problem? How are the survivors? Is the school doing something to support and help them? What does this mean for the future of the school? For the athletics department? What happens to the careers of the folks who had no idea about the incident, but were close enough that they could have done something to help? What does this mean for other student athletes at the school? What does this mean for the student athletes on the team but were not involved in the bad behavior?
The closest I’ve come to the scandals in college football involve Penn State and Baylor. While I attended neither school, I’ve cheered for both teams at different times (and let’s be real, will likely cheer for them at different points in life because I am a trash person, but not for cheering for either team). To this day, I cheer for Penn State and acknowledge that James Franklin dropped some massive bags for Penn State to be how good they were this season. I guess I’ll explain why I’m defending two hated programs…to an extent. This isn’t me saying what happened with either program is okay, both programs had their set of cultural issues that allowed for the repugnant behavior. I also do not think either school being really good at football again is some feel good comeback story because of course both programs bounced back! Penn State is in the Big Ten, the best college football conference (you, who just said I was wrong, chill out), so of course they were going to bounce back and be good. Baylor is located in Texas, a football state. I can’t imagine a scenario where they wouldn’t bounce back and be at least a decent football program, despite being in the Big 12 ( you who thinks the Big 12 is a great football conference, calm down). Now onto an explanation for why I would ever cheer for the Nittany Lions or Bears.
Penn State was my first choice school when applying for colleges. None of my family were really Penn State fans, so the love of this random school in Happy Valley came out of nowhere. The day I got in I ran around my house like a crazy person because I had achieved my goal of getting into Penn State. I toured the campus, the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in the dining halls as well as the creamery on campus were impressive. However, ultimately the cost of attendance was far outside of what I could afford and so I attended Wyoming. My freshman year was the year the news of the Penn State scandal surfaced and suddenly I was a little more thankful that I attended quiet, little Wyoming.
Jerry Sandusky’s actions were vile and horrible. The fact that other people knew about his behavior and acted as passive bystanders is terrifying. The punishment the program received was fair, though I’m sure many would have liked to see the program receive the death penalty of prohibiting the program from fielding a football team for a season.
I’m very conflicted about the NCAA death penalty. On one hand, you want to punish the program for allowing egregious behaviour. On the other hand, you don’t want to punish the uninvolved student athletes or personnel. It’s difficult to be hard on fast on something so drastic because it punishes people who had nothing to do with the crime in addition to the actual wrongdoers. Also, the NCAA is a very frustrating organization who acts as if they’re law enforcement, and try to be judge, jury, and executioner. However, the failings of how the NCAA perceives itself is another article entirely. The long and short of it is, the NCAA most recently handed out the death penalty to SMU for recruiting violations that involved paying players under the table. I don’t know about you, but paying players under the table doesn’t enrage me like sexual assault. Howeva, I don’t necessarily think Penn State or Baylor should have received the death penalty. I do think many people from both schools should have (and did) get fired. I think the wrongdoers should go to prison (which has happened). Speaking of wrongdoers, onto a paper-thin defense of Baylor.
I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about Baylor University. These intrusive thoughts began in 2011 when one of my good friends started college there and RGIII had a great season. Baylor looked great that year, they went 10-3, including an Alamo Bowl win against the University of Washington. From that year on, I loosely followed the program, and then in 2016 when the program imploded, naturally I couldn’t look away. Especially when they received almost no punishment for despicable actions of the players. Again, this is an instance where people wanted to see the NCAA death penalty, but I’m not so sure that would have been the right move.
The players involved in the misconduct are no longer around, so the current players shouldn’t be condemned. The most frustrating part about the Baylor situation isn’t the slap on the wrists punishment, it’s that many Baylor fans don’t think that the program should have received a harder punishment. This is where I understand that arguing is pointless (it’s like arguing with a wall), so then I think about how I would be in their position. If multiple players at Wyoming had been involved in a sexual assault scandal such as the Baylor one, would I defend Wyoming the way Baylor fans defend Baylor, just not the players or Art Briles? Would I be quick to say the program is clean after the coaching staff and players are gone or would it take many years before I could say that?
I love the University of Wyoming, while understanding the flaws of the school, athletics program, and Laramie. Unfortunately, many of those problems are across the board at PWIs. So then digging deeper, if the football program had multiple issues of sexual assault and then hid it, I would call into question the integrity of the players, coaches, or other personnel involved, but also that of the administrators who work with the team everyday. This would further cause internal turmoil because I know some of the administrators and nobody wants to see people they admire abuse power. At the root of any scandal is the abuse of power by corrupt people. Power doesn’t necessarily corrupt, but power absolutely reveals corruption. Perhaps this is how I would rationalize misconduct to allow myself to remain a fan.
Unfortunately, I can sympathize with Penn State and Baylor fans when it comes to remaining loyal to the program but not the guilty parties involved (let’s be real, most Penn State and Baylor fans don’t defend the actions, the guilty people, or the culture that led to the incident). Honestly, I think most people would remain loyal fans because the situation is more complicated than just denouncing being a fan. We want to act as if we operate in the black and white when it comes to obvious wrongdoing, yet we can never truly be impartial, especially when it hits close to home. In both cases, Baylor and Penn State had people across the board handling the situation poorly, and I’m not just referring to the perpetrators. Being a passive bystander is mishandling the situation, and there were definitely passive bystanders in both situations.