Dick Harmon: Penn State, BYU were once brothers in respectability

Published: Monday, July 23 2012 5:00 p.m. MDT

Penn State coach Joe Paterno yells to an official during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Akron, Saturday, Sept. 5, 2009, in State College, Pa. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) (Carolyn Kaster, AP) Penn State coach Joe Paterno yells to an official during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Akron, Saturday, Sept. 5, 2009, in State College, Pa. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) (Carolyn Kaster, AP)

And down goes Penn State.

BYU now remains alone as the only college football team that has won a national championship and has never received a major penalty by the NCAA.

Sanctions, penalties, fines to Penn State Monday in wake of the Jerry Sandusky cover-up of a child sexual predator are expected to decimate the Nittany Lion football program immediately. It will be reduced to just more than a junior college program with an enormous hill to climb to get back to where it was as a Big Ten jewel.

On Sunday, construction crews tried to clandestinely disassemble a giant statue of Joe Paterno and hide it somewhere besides the gateway to the giant stadium. Even after his death, Sunday’s act, in fact all the events the past 48 hours, including vacating Paterno’s win record, proved what some have compared to hacking a corpse to erase a stain.

A year ago, Paterno and Penn State were off the scale in respectability and nobility.

How quick can the worshipped fall?

Is it possible to win a championship in American football without cheating?

According to CBSSports.com, “In the 75-year history of the wire service era, CBSSports.com research showed that it is nearly impossible. Among the schools that have won titles since 1936, when human polls became the accepted form of determining the sport's champion, only Penn State and BYU have never had a major violation in football.”

Neither BYU nor Penn State has crowed about this. BYU isn’t doing so now.

“That’s kind of amazing to me that that’s the case,” BYU’s athletic director Tom Holmoe told national college columnist for CBSSports.com, Dennis Dodd. “Because it doesn’t bode well.”

And that’s true.

Every school walks a thin line every day of every month when outside boosters, athletes with hands outstretched and misguided administrators and coaches try to walk the line of NCAA guidelines that are thick as a phone book.

I’d estimate nobody is immune from violations.

That includes BYU.

The key is “institutional control” and keeping on top of the storm. BYU, as well as Utah and Utah State, is active in “self-reporting” infractions they find. And it happens all the time. These schools have compliance officers who are constantly reviewing cases, reports, complaints and reviewing rules with coaches, players and administrators.

Use of a player photograph in a calendar for sale by a private business? Can’t do it.

A free meal in a restaurant owned by a booster? Nada.

Extra benefits such as tattoos for game jerseys? Ask Ohio State.

Paying someone to help you keep a recruit interested in your school? Shameful — ask Oregon.

It’s constantly a battlefield out there.

Self-reporting means if a school learns of situations that run afoul of NCAA rules, they are the first to get in front of it and report it to the NCAA infractions committee. And this happens all the time.

Schools get in trouble when they engage in covering things up, lying, diverting attention from the NCAA or looking the other way.

In an era of million-dollar budgets and pressure to recruit talent, the temptations are great. There’s no better case study than Paterno and the administrators over him who allowed Sandusky to roam around their program untethered or unpunished, doing unspeakable acts against defenseless kids.

Many BYU fans and the school’s critics have made fun of Bronco Mendenhall over the past three years since he made a statement that football is No. 5 on the list of importance in his program.

But one can see in the Penn State scandal that would have been a great mantra for Papa Joe, his athletic director, his university president and some on the board of trustees about 10 years ago.

College football is in the cross hairs because it’s a big business with many strange companions. You have athletes who are asked to turn down a free watch or golf shirt when their coach is making millions. And the NCAA that governs the coach and the athletes is cashing in billions in TV revenue for showing the athelete's talent on the field.

Yeah, Penn State got clobbered this week. And it deserved it. Saint Paterno has been laid low.

But the line is thin, the battle fragile and the characters human.

And it’s that way every single day we play.

Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at dharmon@desnews.com

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