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Sports, coaches hold sway at many colleges

By Rusty Miller

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, July 14 2012 8:20 a.m. MDT

Dozens of Miami Hurricanes took money from a shady booster now in prison for running a pyramid scheme. The payouts and gifts went on for years, and the NCAA is still investigating the case.

How does all this happen?

The answer can be found partly in packed stadiums on autumn Saturdays. Two weeks after Sandusky was charged last November, for instance, Penn State beat an Ohio State team still under the shadow of the "Tattoo U" scandal before a sellout crowd of more than 105,000 people in Columbus.

Neither scandal could stop the passion of fans, whose love for their schools brings in not millions but billions of dollars across the country, paying for other sports, building natatoriums and rec centers, and luring the coaches who win with salaries of as much as $6 million for 12 games each fall.

Those same coaches — including Paterno, who won a major-college record 409 games — have incredible power and must police themselves to do the right thing. Sometimes there are few other checks.

In the Freeh report, a janitor at Penn State told investigators why he did not report an incident in 2000 when a colleague saw Sandusky molesting a boy in a Penn State shower room.

"(It) would have been like going against the President of the United States in my eyes," he said. "I know Paterno has so much power, if he wanted to get rid of someone, I would have been gone."

The janitor, who was not identified, added that "football runs this University" and that the "the University would have closed ranks to protect the football program at all costs."

Many in the community did close ranks last year. When Paterno's job was in peril, students rallied at his home and then poured into the street after he was fired.

Somewhere along the way, Penn State's officials apparently lost their way, the Freeh report said. At some point, maintaining King Football and keeping the machine running overtook the most basic human emotions.

Bobby Bowden, the retired Florida State coach who is second to Paterno in all-time wins at the Division I level — and whose team was sanctioned for a major academic cheating scandal — said he thinks the Sandusky case will spark new vigilance, particularly around child abuse.

"I think it has awakened everybody in the country. I don't think there is a college professor, a college administrator or college coach that has seen what's happened who wouldn't say this must never happen again," he said. "You can't let things like this slide by."

The feeling was much the same in Columbus, where the Buckeyes will not be eligible for a bowl game this season.

"Creating an environment where everyone is empowered to communicate, share and report any incident, real or perceived, is important," Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said.

Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon maintains it is possible to run big-time athletic programs — specifically football teams — and avoid letting it get too big, partly by using tight campus communities not to insulate but to keep close tabs on what's happening.

"These programs are not spread out over large expanses of geography, there are a limited number of people connected and they're typically a short walk from the administration office," Brandon said.

"There's no reason in the world that big-time college football programs can't have the appropriate controls. It doesn't mean there can't be problems from time to time, but there's no reason the model can't be properly supervised like any other organization."

Sperber, the professor at Cal, wasn't so sure.

"I feel sorry for Penn State. If you say 'Penn State' to the average American, they're going to say 'Sandusky' and 'pedophilia,'" he said. "Eventually they'll go back to Penn State and Nittany Lions, and all of that. I would hope people would learn (from this), although I've lived long enough to see so many instances where nobody learned anything."

AP Sports Writers Brent Kallestad in Tallahassee, Fla., and Larry Lage in Ann Arbor, Mich., contributed to this report.

Follow Rusty Miller on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/rustymillerap

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