The circumstances that led to the crumbling of Indiana University’s men’s basketball program in the 2000s and Penn State's football program in 2011-12 couldn’t be more different.
The response from those involved in and surrounding those programs is also quite divergent. Indiana University and its legions could learn a lot from the Penn State players that stood up Wednesday and said they would stay at the school despite crippling sanctions the program would face in the wake of a sex scandal involving the team’s former defensive coordinator.
Flanked by more than two dozen teammates, seniors Michael Mauti and Michael Zordich vowed to restore Penn State to greatness.
“We want to let the nation know that we’re proud of who we are,” senior fullback Michael Zordich said, flanked by his fellow players Wednesday morning. “We’re the true Penn Staters, and we’re going to stick together through this. We’re going to see this thing through, and we’re going to do everything we can for the university. We know it's not going to be easy, but we know what we’re made of.”
As I watched the Nittany Lions players speak, I couldn’t help but hearken back to the way IU’s basketball players jumped ship after their coach, Kelvin Sampson, was busted by the NCAA for making too many phone calls to recruits in 2008.
Eight years earlier, the Bloomington campus almost broke out into a full-fledged riot when Bob Knight was fired. I wonder where the true Hoosiers were then.
Yes, some behavior in the immediate wake of the scandal by PSU students and supporters was out of line. And some PSU players will leave. Shame on schools like Illinois that swooped into Happy Valley this week to recruit away players. But the reaction from those players that stood up on Wednesday should be lauded, and it sounds like the majority of players will stay united.
While I won’t criticize those players who do leave, I think there’s something more to admire about those that stick with the school they chose to represent, and where they chose to get an education. Remember, the NCAA sanctions include a four-year post-season ban. That means the players that stay will never again have the chance of realizing every college football players’ dream—to play in a bowl game.
While they may miss out on a championship opportunity, the players I heard Wednesday seized something more important than glory. They’ve grasped—in less than a week—what it took many IU followers years to figure out. Some still haven’t grasped it.
“This program was not built by one man and it’s sure as hell not going to get torn down by one man,” Mauti said. “This program was built on every alumni, every single player that came before us, built on their backs.”
I’m not sure who Mauti was referring to as the one man; Jerry Sandusky? Joe Paterno? It’s really not important.
What is important is the truth that the institution and the program—whether it’s Penn State football or IU basketball—is bigger than any one person, no matter if it’s JoePa or Bob Knight.
After Knight was fired, most of his players stayed, but many of his followers departed. Some never will come back.
Some IU faithful have returned in the years since Mike Davis, Kelvin Sampson and now Tom Crean have led the team. New supporters also have been born. It’s been a painful process for everyone involved with the school.
Could IU have avoided the pitfalls it fell into over the years since Knight departed? We’ll never know. But, hopefully, we now know this: Playing the game is always more important than the outcome. Institutions are always bigger than the individuals who compose them.
No one person should be held responsible for an institution’s success or failure. That’s why institutions must always be held accountable for what happens within their walls. That’s why individuals may be legends, but institutions are dynasties—forged by a cumulative effort from myriad players over many years.
And that’s why Penn State and IU will remain standing long after the men who roamed their sidelines are dead and gone.