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CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

For everyone's sake, Penn State needs to say no to a bowl game

The school needs to concentrate on recovering from the child sex abuse scandal and not burden bowl officials with an unwanted sideshow.

November 16, 2011|Chris Dufresne
  • Penn State seniors (from left to right) Derek Moye, Quinn Barham, Devon Still and Drew Astorino lead their teammates onto the field before Saturday's game against the Nebraska. Rather than focusing on a bowl game, Penn State needs to dedicate the rest of its season to repairing the damage caused by the child-abuse sex scandal.
Penn State seniors (from left to right) Derek Moye, Quinn Barham, Devon… (Nabil K. Mark / MCT )

Penn State's leadership has been tone-deaf and 10 steps behind during every stupefying step of its ongoing crisis.

Four days before Joe Paterno said "I am absolutely devastated by these developments" and "this is a tragedy" and "I wish I had done more," he said, "I understand people are upset and angry, but let's be fair and let the legal process unfold."

Since-fired university president Graham Spanier's first reaction after his athletic director and former vice president were charged with perjury relating to allegations that former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky sexually abused children?

FULL COVERAGE: Penn State scandal

Spanier offered unconditional support … to his AD and VP.

Last week, before Penn State canceled Paterno's weekly Tuesday news conference less than an hour before its scheduled start, powerful people actually thought reporters would stick to an edict of football-only questions in advance of the Nebraska game.

Penn State also announced last Thursday that assistant coach Mike McQueary, a polarizing figure in the case, would coach in the game Saturday when everyone else knew he wouldn't.

So it should not shock anyone that interim President Rodney Erickson said last Saturday he believed Penn State should play in a bowl game this season.

"If our student-athletes have earned the right to play, they should be allowed to do so," Erickson said.

Wrong again.

Penn State should not play in a bowl game, especially if it qualifies for the Rose Bowl. The school has no right to further burden officials who are already petrified with the nightmare prospect of having to extend a bid.

Penn State has a one-game lead in the Big Ten Leaders Division with two tough road games to play. Chances are the Nittany Lions won't survive a gantlet of Ohio State, Wisconsin and the Big Ten title game, but it's not impossible to think Penn State could win three straight and earn an automatic bid.

"We don't have a say in that," Rose Bowl spokesperson Gina Chappin said this week. "Our agreement is to host the conference champion."

Imagine the carnival sideshow spectacle of coaches and players from both teams being overwhelmed with scandal questions.

Imagine TMZ for 24-7.

Penn State wouldn't be coming here looking for a fresh start. It would be toting an interim head coach and members of a coaching staff with long ties to Sandusky.

How could Penn State's marching band joyously march down Colorado Boulevard?

Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany this week ordered Paterno's name removed from the conference's football championship trophy. "The trophy and its namesake are intended to be celebratory and inspirational, not controversial," he said.

In that same spirit, bowl games should be celebrations, not interrogations.

The worst Penn State can finish this year is 8-4. If the Nittany Lions reach the Big Ten title game, they can drop no lower than to the Gator Bowl.

Before it ever gets to that point, leadership at Penn State should announce it will sit this bowl season out.

Penn State players need less time in the limelight, not more. The school needs to regroup and come to grips with what was perhaps the most disturbing two weeks in the history of collegiate athletics.

Yes, it would be unfair to players who had nothing to do with what's unfolding now. It is also unfair USC players have to sit out two bowl cycles for sins connected to Reggie Bush in 2004 and '05.

Subjecting Penn State's potential opponent to this maelstrom would also be grossly unfair. "Can you imagine being the other team's coach?" one bowl official said this week. "It takes over the entire story."

Deserving teams have stayed home before. Two years ago, bowl-eligible Notre Dame refused a bid after Charlie Weis' firing.

The Big Ten used have a no-repeater rule to the Rose Bowl. In 1961, Ohio State's faculty counsel, believing football had become too important, rejected a Rose Bowl bid for one of Woody Hayes' really good teams. They almost had to call in the National Guard — but the university survived.

Penn State's season can't end fast enough. Thank goodness its last two games are on the road, because getting through the last home game was arduous enough.

Penn State doesn't need to immediately decide whether it should shut down its football program, but it does need to shut down December.

Imagine players walking out of Lawry's after a prime rib dinner and having to answer questions about potential new allegations.

Penn State's full-time efforts should be devoted to internal overhaul, reflection, introspection, healing and identifying a next coach strong enough to lead the program through unprecedented difficulties.

Players who want to leave the program should use December to petition the NCAA for a transfer without having to sit out a season.

"Any school can request a waiver of the year in residence for a transfer student-athlete," NCAA spokesperson Stacey Osburn said in an email this week. "These transfers are considered by NCAA staff based on membership-created guidelines. As with any waiver decision, it can be appealed to a membership committee which serves as the appellate body."

The last thing Penn State needs to worry about right now is gift bags and bowl payouts.

The Rose Bowl welcomed Penn State's presence in 2008, even if Paterno sometimes acted like a curmudgeon. But it's a different game now.

The Rose Bowl has earned the right to be 60 minutes on ESPN, not "60 Minutes" on CBS.

In a few years, after things have settled down, by all means, come on back. Please, though, not now. And especially not here.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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