JoePa's Doghouse


It is reasonable for those expressing their outrage at the Sandusky scandal to believe that Penn State should pay for their actions. In many ways this is already occurring: the legal proceedings will continue, those who were directly responsible for their actions are now removed from their positions and will likely go to jail, and penalties will be paid. It will not suffice for many people. Justice is great for imposing resolutions to wrongs, but justice does a poor job at closure. Justice does not resolve the emotion and anger at this scandal. Justice on its own will make it appear that the school is satisfied to resolve the issue by cutting some checks, putting some bankers boxes in the public record office, and shuffling some office chairs.

Right now several observers are calling for the football Death Penalty as quickly as possible, and the NCAA President has stated that he has not ruled it out. The Death Penalty is familiar to most observers, but it is a blunt instrument and to swing it with wild abandon leads to unintended consequences for those who are completely innocent of any wrongdoing. It is the wrong solution to this nebulous emotional state we are trying to resolve.

I think what people want to see is contrition, an expressed act by those currently in positions of responsibility are genuinely remorseful of the recent past. "I know you're guilty," many observers are saying, "but show me that you are sorry or I will make you feel sorry!"

Contrition can not be done by the fans. There are too many voices debating too many other voices surrounding a scandal we all view as awful. Contrition can only be done by those who have been crushed by the weight of guilt--those in power who could have acted swiftly, the athletic department that crafted a culture of silence, and the football program which was a scandalously willing vessel for Sandusky to perpetrate these acts.

The Freeh Report was the first act of contrition, a complete airing of the length and breadth of the scandal that needed to happen on both legal and moral grounds. The next reasonable action is the turning of documents to the NCAA, followed by steps that create a culture of full disclosure and transparency. These are all good acts, but they are measured, distant, and unemotional. More is needed. Proper resolution will require good people to do bold things, and to do them in a direct, emotional, and sincere manner.

Here are three ideas on how Penn State should express contrition over the Sandusky Scandal:

Penn State Should Play a Ghost Game.

Source: Creative Commons. Photo Credit: joncandy

A ghost game is a game played in front of empty stands. The game, its results and its statistics would be recorded as it would be normally, only it is played behind closed doors. This would be an unprecedented in both college football and in all of American sports. There is precedent of using this in Europe after egregious violations of trust by ownership (matchfixing) or their fanbases (riots). In many cases this penalty is imposed just days after the event. The Athletic Department self-imposing a ghost game would be a bold and selfless expression of guilt in its most public of spaces.

The money fans spent on the ticket and parking pass would be redistributed much like a cancelled concert event, but the Athletic Department would have to incur the costs. If there is an appearance fee for the away side, they should receive it in full. If anything they should be happy to face the Nittany Lions without a hostile crowd.

I think the Ohio game would be the ideal date for the Athletic Department to self-impose a ghost game.  It is the first game of the season, making it more impactful and direct to the response. On the practical side there is likely less ticket demand for a non-conference opponent, meaning less issues with folks who bought higher priced tickets from a re-seller and are only getting face value back.

The media would be allowed to cover the game, and the images of a game being played in front of an empty 110,000 seat stadium would be stark. This would be the biggest story of the weekend. Hopefully, it would move the media discussion from how best to penalize Penn State to how Penn State can best face its future.

The one big negative for a ghost game is the monetary impact of such a move. Per Onward State:

In 2010-2011, Penn State Football —  yes, just football — profited over$53 million. However, the Athletic Department distributes a majority of that cash to the 28 other teams, that without football’s financial assistance, wouldn’t be able to operate.

Penn State plays seven home games this year, so a ghost game would reduce in-game receipts to six total games. Still, this would not be the highest-attended game in any case, and TV revenues should be unaffected. This is a very rough estimate, but I would guess a ghost game would reduce Athletic Department revenues by $5 million. This is a significant amount, but I think it is one the Athletic Department can withstand--particularly when compared to the death penalty.

Another loser are the players and coaches who play in front of an empty stadium, but its a far better situation than being told that the program has ceased to exist and face the prospect of leaving friends, educators, and a region to establish a new life of football someplace else.

A ghost game is a fair method of penalizing the Athletic Department without without penalizing the student-athletes or current coaches who did not have any knowledge of the events of the past. The game by its own will fall flat if it doesn't come with a consistent, sincere, and clear message on why the game was played in front of empty stands. The Athletic Director should couple the announcement with something like, "we disrespected the victims, we disrespected our students, we disrespected our alumni. We must do this. We want to move on, and the next step is to make it up to you whom we let down."

Draw People Into Town for the Ghost Game & Connect with the Fans.

We know how dependent certain sector's of State College's economy are on football home games. The best way to prevent a ghost game from having a severe impact on their bottom line is to provide as many reasons for fans to travel up here anyway in support of Penn State and Happy Valley. Don't go to far to make it a big event, but honor the now-free parking passes. Provide a central plaza with a large screen TV or open up the Bryce Jordan Center for a TV feed of the game. Let it be known that the President, Board of Trustees, Athletic Director, and other leaders will be walking around the tailgates, greeting people, and listening to Penn Staters who made the trip.

Organizing a a new event in six weeks is difficult but not impossible. There are already events that will be taking place anyway, this would just redirect them to the fore. Give the Blue Band the opportunity to perform their halftime show at the baseball stadium, or have it parade along Park Avenue.

Local media and the fans would likely do the rest to get people to come to Happy Valley. It would be an incredible lift for the players to hear chanting and cheering outside the stadium while the game is going on, knowing that they are supported even if people aren't in the stands.

Get Sophisticated in Promoting the University as a Whole.

This is the long-term solution that must be coupled with transparency. Penn State has been too willing to let Joe Paterno do their marketing for them. It is an antiquated method and unfair to the rest of the University. I love Penn State football, but I did not go to Penn State because it was a Top 10 school in football. I went because it was a Top 10 school in Landscape Architecture. Penn State only needs to look to places like Michigan and Stanford to know you can promote your educational prowess and still have big-time sports programs. No more images of football games in the 30 second promotional video, and get these incredible professors the admiration they deserve. If a Penn State professor is making a speech or doing research in another town, let the local alumni association know about it. If the  This is one of the fifty best research institutions in the world, it's high time it started promoting itself like one.

Perhaps what I suggested would work towards a resolution. Whatever occurs, it's never too late to start doing good things.

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  1. With all due respect, I think the ghost game idea is not really going to solve anything. It doesn’t do any good and looks like an underwhelming response to this situation. Look, no amount of punishment is ever going to seem appropriate or appease the critics.

    Here is what we need to do. The past is the past, and we can’t change that. What we can do is make the future better. In that regard what PSU should do is to donate 10% of gross proceeds from athletic department ticket sales permanently to charity as our way forward. Turn what has become such a source of negativity into a force for good. Maybe PSU even permanently retires the number 10 from all athletic teams as a reminder that is the way we now do things.

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