Frank Beamer received the first Joseph V. Paterno Award in 2010, emblematic of college football coaches who not only win games but also mold young men. Last week, Beamer moved the plaque from his Virginia Tech office and into storage.
“I thought it was the proper thing to do,” he said Monday at the ACC’s preseason media gathering.
Equally proper was the NCAA’s swift and severe punishment Monday of Penn State, the program Paterno built into a national champion but helped turn into a disgrace by turning a blind eye to defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky’s pedophilia.
“The NCAA made a gigantic statement,” Beamer said.
The statement was especially difficult for the two ACC head coaches who played for Paterno at Penn State: Boston College’s Frank Spaziani and Miami’s Al Golden.
“Just sad, really sad,” Golden said. “I’m going to continue to keep in the forefront of my thoughts and prayers the innocent victims and their families. … What happened today, and what led to today, was unprecedented.”
“This is really a tragedy on many levels,” Spaziani said, appearing almost numb. “Make no mistake about that. First and foremost, it’s the victims, which once again are being pushed behind in talking about the penalties on the football team. I think we need to keep those people and this crime in the forefront.
“For me to get on a soapbox and pontificate on what I believe should or shouldn’t happen, this is not the forum for that. I’m here for the ACC, to promote our league, and I’m here for Boston College. Certainly I have some thoughts about it, but this isn’t the forum.”
A starting defensive end on Penn State’s undefeated 1968 team, Spaziani is correct. Sandusky’s victims will, and indeed have, become secondary to those obsessed by how NCAA penalties will affect Nittany Lions football.
But NCAA president Mark Emmert and the association’s Division I Board of Directors did not ignore the overarching issue. Penn State’s $60-million fine, the rough equivalent of one year’s football revenue, will be donated to funds that serve victims of child sexual abuse.
The NCAA also slashed Penn State football’s scholarships, instituted a four-year bowl ban and gave current players carte blanche to transfer anywhere, with immediate eligibility.
“There’s going to be some ramifications that I don’t think we know yet,” Spaziani said. “There’s a lot of issues here that in a roundtable people could discuss. It’s a polarizing issue, is it not?”
No question. The NCAA bypassed its standard, and often painfully slow, investigative and enforcement procedures to issue swift and, severe penalties that could hamstring new coach Bill O’Brien before his first game — Paterno was fired in November and died in January.
“Man, if I’m Bill O’Brien now, it’s got to be devastating news,” Virginia coach Mike London said. “I’m kind of stunned. …
“I’m the father of seven, and you think about what happened to those victims and it makes you angry and you’re outraged about it. And there’s a concern you have about the layers it went through without anyone saying anything.”
London’s Cavaliers host Penn State on Sept. 8 and are scheduled to play there next season. Given the NCAA’s transfer ruling Monday, there’s no telling what the Nittany Lions’ roster will resemble in September and beyond.
“It’s like the NFL draft or something like that,” London said of Penn State players possibly becoming available for this season.
Penn State not only risks losing current players but also will be limited to 15 scholarship signees for the next four years, 10 below the NCAA maximum. Beamer confronted scholarship reductions early in his tenure due to violations committed by his predecessor, Bill Dooley.
“I think that’s the most severe punishment you can hand out,” Beamer said, citing the long-term effects.
But like Southern California, another program hit with scholarship limits, and unlike Virginia Tech in the 1980s, Penn State has pedigree to aid its recovery.
“I don’t think you can cripple a Penn State because of the brand and who and what they were and what they’ve accomplished,” North Carolina State coach Tom O’Brien said.
As a former Marine officer, O’Brien was pleased to see the NCAA spare little mercy in punishing an iconic program.
“You don’t discipline the bottom,” he said. “You discipline the people at the top, and when you do, everyone stands up and pays attention. It’s the same thing with a team or any leadership position. … It doesn’t do you any good to punish the guys at the bottom. That doesn’t get anybody’s attention.”
A devout Catholic outraged by pedophile priest scandals, O’Brien called Sandusky’s crimes “a tragic situation that no words could ever express.”
His words about Paterno were most revealing.
“I believe that he’s already been judged by somebody I believe will do the judging for all of us,” O’Brien said.
Penn State opens the season Sept. 1 at home, against Ohio.
“They probably should have it on national TV,” Spaziani said. “It’s a Greek tragedy. Everyone will want to watch it.”
David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/sports/teeltime and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP