Would the Syracuse students rush to support Jim Boeheim in the middle of a university-rocking scandal? At Penn State it happened last night, just hours before officials decided these would be Joe Pa’s final weeks. No matter what program you root for, which one you graduated from, it’s impossible not to draw connections to your own college relationship during this national maelstrom.
PSU is swaying with daily seismic quakes since the horrific story broke this weekend, but the student body congregated in front of embattled Joe Paterno’s house last night. About 300 students gathered at the home of Joe Pa, cheering him on as he spoke softly from his front window and rallied them by saying, “Beat Nebraska!”
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It’s virtually impossible to put yourself in the slimy, sullied shoes of PSU right now. No matter who you believe to be at fault, the idea a child molestation scandal could happen within your university’s football walls is too much to digest. But if The Per’fesser ever came under attack, and there were widespread calls to fire him immediately, would we see a similar scene unfold with students rushing to his side?
There are some obvious parallels between Joe Pa and Jim B. They are products of the past, bringing old school values to the table, helping build their programs into national powers and becoming two of the most influential figures of their region. They are both the faces of their schools and have Hall of Fame plaques already carved. But would the students be raucously championing Boeheim in the middle of a storm? Probably not. Although, much of that is not an indictment of Boeheim at all.
First, let’s look at sheer numbers. PSU is a sprawling gigantic student body. Outsiders are often shocked to hear SU has only 10,000 undergrads. The SU brand is bigger than the realities of a northeastern private school. Finding 300 people at Penn State to get face raked by LaVar Arrington is not all that hard. On the Hill, The Dougie has to offer free tickets to get students to the Rutgers game.
More importantly, the Rockwellian picture of utopian simplicity is unique to Penn State. They call it Happy Valley for crying out loud. We all have a fondness for upstate, but no one is putting the word “happy” anywhere near Central New York (unless there’s a 2-for-1 special at Dinosaur). The student body, fan base, and media aren’t nearly as adoringly enchanted by Boeheim. Part of Paterno’s lore is living on campus, among the kids, handing out pizzas, scooping ice cream at the old soda shoppe with his family and grandkids. Boeheim lives in Fayetteville, with his smoking hot younger wife. Sorry, but the Syracuse students aren’t caravaning out to 481.
Physically, the two men couldn’t be more different. Jim is built like a basketball player, an imposing figure, all limbs and elbows and knees. Joe Pa is Yoda, a 5 ‘4″ ball of 1950’s nostalgia, with coke-bottle glasses and a look out of Del Boca Vista’s brochure.
Paterno is your quirky grandpa who gives you a nickel on Thanksgiving. Boeheim is your biology professor (the genesis for the nickname The Per’fesser) handing you a C+ on your pop quiz. Jim is cloaked in crankiness, not lovability. I spoke to Yahoo! Sports Dan Wetzel on my radio show last night. He theorized part of the reason this may have been allowed to happen at Penn State was the fortress of “family” that Paterno created. You play, you coach, you keep it in house. No one questions it. No one turns against it. No one goes public with anything disparaging.
Penn State and Syracuse are historically tied together at the hip. The two schools represented the power of northeast football for a generation who felt college pigskin was the divine right of the south and midwest. The rivalry cultivated between Joe Pa and Shwartzwalder became mythology. Penn State was supposed to help solidify the Big East. Jake Crouthamel resented the Nittany Lions looking for a sweetheart deal and helped veto it. When Penn State finally came back to the Dome a few years ago it was an event. It’s sickening to watch this unfold anywhere as an Orange fan, but specifically at Happy Valley.
This has been a hideous and destructive calendar year for college athletics. Auburn’s Can Newton investigation. Ohio State’s tattoo-gate. Miami’s yacht parties. Realignment and expansion greed. Now Penn State. Helps keep things in perspective. Could be a lot worse than losses to Lousiville and UConn, huh?
Photo Cred: PennLive.com