The question that Penn State can never quite shake came, in a crowded, elbow-to-elbow media scrum around head coach James Franklin on Monday afternoon at Big Ten Media Days.
It involved former longtime Nittany Lions head coach Joe Paterno, a recent petition of 200 Penn State lettermen to return his statue, and recent court documents in a case between Penn State and its insurer, the Pennsylvania Manufacturer’s Association.
In the documents (unsealed by a judge earlier this month), it was revealed that a victim testified that he was essentially ignored by Paterno in 1976 when he told the head coach he’d been abused by then-assistant Jerry Sandusky.
Although the scandal involving Sandusky broke in 2011 (and the four-year anniversary of the sanctions levied-then-lifted by the NCAA was last Saturday), information keeps surfacing bit by bit, and Franklin never stops getting questions.
“These things are going to be going on for a number of years,” said Franklin. “My focus needs to be on the things that we can control. That’s not one of them. For me, answering questions about things that happened 40 years ago when I was 4 years old, I don’t know if that’s necessarily the best use of my time or others’.”
Where he does become involved, however, is when recruiting is affected.
Franklin said that some “people,” (meaning teams who are also recruiting Penn State targets), “choose to use” the topic of the Sandusky scandal and the resulting trickling-out of information over the past few months against Penn State.
“There have been some things that have been said that have caused concern (with recruits),” he said. “... Obviously for us, there are some sensitive subjects out there. Some people choose to use it and some people don’t. What we’re there to do is try to talk about Penn State, focus on all the wonderful opportunities that Penn State offers academically, athletically, socially, spiritually, but also be able to answer the tough questions.
“And we’re probably in a position where we have to answer more tough questions than any other program in the country.”
A strange feeling, he said, when discussing matters with young prospects that the current set of players and coaches had nothing to do with.
Athletic director Sandy Barbour recently addressed the topic of negative recruiting against Penn State in a sitdown with ESPN, who reported that she “was made aware of negative recruiting efforts that suggested Penn State was in for another investigation from the NCAA and said those assertions are over the line.”
“For someone, anyone, to try to plant in the mind of a 17-year-old that you don’t want to go to Penn State because they’re going to get hit with the death penalty or there are going to be more sanctions, is not only untrue but disingenuous and I think a real slap in the face to this profession,” Barbour told ESPN.
Although, Franklin added, negative recruiting happens everywhere in the country.
“Everybody is dealing with it,” he said. “You just have to be prepared. You have to have a plan.
“You just want to make sure that you have open lines of communication, that you’re as transparent as you possibly can be. You get on the phone and reach out to people and answer questions and be open and be honest and be truthful.”
Franklin said the NCAA and the Big Ten have been “supportive” of providing the university as well as prospects themselves with the answers they might be searching for. The administration at Penn State also tries to assist in answering “tough questions.”
“Once we’ve been able to do that we’ve been really fortunate,” he said. “We’ve been supported, people have understood.”