October 11, 2012

NEWCOMB | Penn State Football: After the Aftermath

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While I am starting my column midway through the semester, I am no stranger to the pages of The Cornell Daily Sun. For the past four years, I have worked in the Design department of the paper, working tirelessly behind the scenes to make this paper look beautiful at all times.

However, there is a need in the Sports section this semester for snarky analysis of football, and I am more than willing to fill this gap. While you may question my credibility to take on this role, that would be a mistake. I have grown up a football fan — Northwestern football specifically — and have done any number of seemingly ridiculous things to follow them. I promise.

Given my love of Northwestern football, I want to talk about Penn State, which is the team that delivered my beloved Wildcats their first loss of the season this past Saturday.

The scandal and scrutiny surrounding Penn State football is no secret. It would almost be impressive if you know nothing about the Sandusky trial at this point, or how it affected the team at the end of last season with the firing of Joe Paterno after he had been the head coach since 1966.

The game this past Saturday was homecoming for the Nittany Lions, but it was clear from the kickoff that this season centers on more than football for the fans. Many fans held up signs around the stadium that read “We support our players” or “We stand with the team” in an outpouring of support that I have never seen for a team before.

What is clear in the aftermath of the trial and subsequent sanctions handed down to the football program is the strength of the football team as a unit and the community of Happy Valley. In July, the NCAA announced that the program would be charged $60 million, be banned from postseason play for four years and would vacate all of their wins dating back to 1998.

Immediately following this announcement, an article surfaced that more than 30 players had made a promise to each other and to the school to stay at Penn State for the fall. This was important because the sanctions allowed any current or incoming player to immediately transfer and play at any other school, which would eliminate the normal year that a transfer player would not be eligible to play.

These thirty players stood together and used words like integrity and honor to describe their goals for this coming year. It was a sentiment echoed by multiple Big Ten coaches who made statements that they would not use Penn State as a feeding ground for other teams within the conference to try and recruit these transfers to their squads (some openly recruited on Penn State’s campus saying that they were merely “giving the opportunity” to any Penn State player who wanted to transfer, which I think is a dirty lie).

The respect that coaches showed for the players took a moment away from the competitive spirit of college football as they realized that these players are first and foremost students.

There are a lot of stories that have come out of this tragedy that are more subtle than the support for the football team. The fans of Penn State football have been affected in a very profound way as well. Many interviews with fans immediately following the trial talked about a betrayal, that they felt ashamed of cheering for a program that had been supporting such extensive abuse for so many years.

In many ways, Happy Valley itself has been affected by this story. Beaver Stadium had more than 90,000 fans in attendance last weekend, but many business owners were very afraid before the start of the season that a lower fan turnout would hurt their businesses that depend on football season to survive. Whether or not the fans and alumni have rallied as they have in the past to bring money into Happy Valley during football season will only be seen as the season continues.

The reason I wanted to talk about Penn State football in my first column is that there are a lot of different issues in play that I think are unexpected effects of these sanctions. First and foremost, the players on the Penn State football team have shown a loyalty to a program that they have been a part of for a maximum of three years coming into this season.

As a student and also a fan of college football, I cannot imagine their disappointment at having expectations of playing for such an iconic program completely destroyed in such a short amount of time. However, their dedication to Penn State has shown leadership that is impressive on the field as well as off the field.

This loyalty is matched by the fans as well as the community members who have rallied around this team in the creation of a mutual support network to help everyone in the Penn State community start a very long healing process.

A team that started 0-2 this season, Penn State has won its last four games and is playing with a momentum that was palpable last weekend. The Penn State football community is putting a lot more on the line than football for this program, and it’s catching fire.

Finally, I want to take a moment to explain the name of my column “Sucks to Suck.” When I was a kid, many coaches would say that everyone was a winner for participating in sports and that there were no losers. Even in the collegiate and professional sports world, losses are often categorized as “moral victories” for the team that does not come out on top.

As a kid then, as an adult now, and as a fan of a school that loses a lot of games it takes dedication to be a Northwestern fan) I can say with confidence that this is not the case. There is no competitor who enjoys being last under any circumstances. It truly does suck to suck, and I won’t let you forget it.

Original Author: Annie Newcomb