Penn State

Penn State vs. Ohio State: Discovery vs. Complacency

My husband Terry grew up in Ohio and spent every Saturday as a child listening to radio broadcasts on Ohio State football and cheering them on to wins.  He knows the words to all the Ohio State fight songs by heart, and even today he has to restrain himself from singing them when Penn State plays Ohio State.

We have been to every game Penn State has played against Ohio State since we joined the Big Ten in 1993.  At those games we, of course, cheer for Penn State.  But we also love to watch TBDBITL - the Best Damn Band In The Land.

When we visit Ohio State we often go to band practice held outside Ohio Stadium on Friday afternoon just to watch them perform and enjoy the thrill as they announce the tuba player who will dot the "i" on Saturday's game.    The "Script Ohio" routine is the best marching band tradition anywhere, and the Ohio State band is simply the crispest and best college football band we have ever seen, bar none.  And we have seen a lot of bands!

We have also had reasonably good experiences traveling to Columbus and interacting with Ohio State fans.  The fan behavior at Ohio State last year in Columbus was even better than in the past - downright welcoming - due to a campaign Ohio State instituted over the last few years to be welcoming to away team fans.  As a result of that noticeable difference in fan behavior, as well as recent renovations that have made Ohio Stadium a much better experience for away team visitors, Terry and I upgraded Ohio State to #5 in our list of favorite college football game venues.

As Big Ten rivals, we have always cheered for the Ohio State Buckeyes whenever we do not play them.  It's partly because Ohio State is in my husband's blood, and partly because, well, we have a lot of respect for The Ohio State University.  Or perhaps I should say we did.  That respect is considerably diminished now.

And so it is with sadness that we have been watching this drama unfold about the NCAA violations committed by Ohio State football players that former coach Jim Tressel chose to, at the very best, not report in a timely manner to Ohio State.  At worst, it appears that Jim Tressel lied and chose to intentionally withhold information on a variety of player transgressions over an eight year period. 

And while the NCAA violations in question could happen anywhere, the reactions of a coach and a university to handling these violations sets a tone that, over time, builds a culture that's hard to change.  It appears that the Ohio State University built a culture of looking the other way on major infractions while addressing some minor violations.  That's not good, because it breeds complacency.

It's also easy and very tempting for a university to be complacent when they're winning, and bringing in huge bucks through their football program to support other athletic programs and university goals.

So what does Ohio State do?  They wait until they get "caught" by a well-researched and embarrassing Sports Illustrated article and then they finally put pressure on Jim Tressel to resign.  This does not look good for the university administration.  And their silence over that weekend was deafening.  Complacency starts at the top.

At Penn State, the culture is different.  It is called "The Penn State Way" by the coaches.  Or "Success with Honor" by the Nittany Lion Club.  It is a culture that was built by Coach Joe Paterno and it has been reinforced by university presidents and numerous other athletics officials over time.

It is a culture that I believe will outlast the coach after he leaves the program, whenever that is.  It will be the finest legacy that Coach Joe Paterno leaves behind.

When it comes to NCAA violations or other issues of players in trouble, Penn State has a culture of discovery.  Penn State wants to be the first to know when a player is in trouble.  And will be the first to address it and report it if there is a violation.

I see evidence of this culture all the time.  As a marketing professor, I get requests three times per semester to report on the progress of any athletes in my classroom.  The effort to collect these data is always appreciated, even though sometimes I don't have anything to report.

When I have had class activities that might potentially get a player in my class into trouble with the NCAA the players themselves have asked me to check it out and get approval.  They are well-trained in recognizing what might be a potential violation.

I remember a semester where the winning team in a business case competition would receive a $100 gift certificate to, donated by the Dow Chemical Company to the winning case team.  One of my student-athletes asked if it was in compliance with NCAA rules.  So I checked it out (it was fine because it was a class activity where everyone had equal chance - no favoritism towards athletes).

I was asked to participate in a recruiting session with a football player this spring to represent the Smeal College of Business.  Because I am also a contributor to the Nittany Lion Club (the "booster" club) I asked them to clear that with an NCAA compliance officer.   They did.  My academic status as a professor won out.

And just a few weeks ago, Tackle Eric Shrive was telling me about some of the NCAA rules on fundraising by athletes and how the Penn State football charity Lift for Life addresses it - very carefully so that athletes won't handle any cash themselves!

There are other examples that I could bring up.   My point is that the awareness of potential NCAA violations with athletes generally pervades the culture at Penn State.  Coaches, students, and faculty know when to ask and who to ask for advice.  It goes beyond one coach to the reporting system that is in place university-wide.  It is something that gives us a lot of pride.

If The Ohio State University is going to turn things around, they probably need to start from scratch with leadership at the top that will encourage discovery rather than complacency.  Whether or not the Board of Trustees and the current President have the will to do that remains to be seen.  I'm sure it will be painful to do so.

There are a number of Penn Staters who are gloating about this situation. Terry and I are not among them.  We will  not buy any of those t-shirts in downtown State College that discuss Jim Tressel's inVESTigation or make fun of Terrelle Pryor's propensity to own lots of cars or his recent resignation as a student-athlete.

We know too well how easily this can happen without a very organized system of and commitment to discovery and disclosure.  And we would like nothing better for Ohio State to recover by putting such a system and culture into place.

We wish the best for Ohio State.  They are one of our most important rivals.  We want them to be good.  So that when we win against them it means something.

We want them to be good because there is nothing to be gained for Penn State if they are bad.   We want to beat an excellent team, not a team that is handicapped by NCAA sanctions.