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Friday, July 13, 2007

Sometimes Scathing Online Schoolmarm...

...just has to scratch her head. Guys! The way guys write! The way guys write about university sports!

Penn State's Number Two in the current Fulmer Cup rankings, which track the most criminal bigtime university sports teams in the country. It's got real problems. But when you just love those lunks, here's how you describe the situation.

The only Heisman Trophy winner in Penn State history was never consigned by his coach to spending a Sunday morning crawling across the clammy, sticky concrete of Beaver Stadium, collecting hot dog wrappers and empty Cheese Whiz cups. [In response to a variety of serious offenses on the part of his players, the Penn State coach had them pick trash up at the stadium one day. Let the punishment fit the crime and all... The writer's first sentence, while jammed with all the vivid detail your writing teacher tells you to jam into your sentences, is a bit overwhelming. The coupling of "only" and "never" at the beginning of the sentence is confusing. And the writer's effort to make a trash clean-up sound like years in a gulag looks unpromising.] If Joe Paterno ever punished John Cappelletti and those Nittany Lions of the early 1970s the way he has his current players, putting all of them on trash detail to pay for the alleged offenses of some of them, Cappelletti doesn't remember it. [Note "alleged." Nothing alleged about them. And for "some," write "lots." That's the only way you get to the top of the Fulmer.]

“Then again,” Cappelletti, the 1973 Heisman trophy winner said by telephone the other day, “we may not have had the same problems that he's experienced now.”

The problem was an off-campus brawl in the spring at which at least 15 Penn State football players were present and six were arrested. The university ultimately disciplined 10 players last month, placing four on year-long probation and two on permanent probation and temporarily expelling safety Anthony Scirrotto, defensive lineman Chris Baker, linebacker Jerome Hayes and cornerback Lydell Sargeant.

Those expulsions can end in time for the fall semester and for the four to play in Penn State's season opener against Florida International on Sept. 1 [whew!], but Paterno had beaten the university's judicial affairs system to the punch. He announced his team-wide cleanup detail in May, igniting accusations that he was attempting to subvert the school's investigation. [Coach's punch starts a fire.... Yeah, I know, don't go there... It's sports writing...]

“What Joe does to run the program, what he decides,” Cappelletti said, “is still his call.”

Scheduled to appear at Northampton Country Club in Richboro on July 22 for the Louis P. Merlano Scholarship Classic, Cappelletti, 54, doesn't get back to the East Coast much, maybe three weeks a year. He lives in Laguna Niguel, Calif., now and talks to Paterno only occasionally, but even from that distance, he can see that Paterno's handling of the situation hasn't been all that surprising.

“If coaches don't feel they're getting the most of you, they may have to do something to jump-start you,” Cappelletti said. “It may not be things you want to hear, just like when you're growing up and you hear things from your parents about curfew. But for me to be the best son I could be, my parents had to be tough. And for me to be the best player I could be, Joe had to be tough. If not, what value other than Xs and Os was he bringing to the program?”

It's easy to suggest that, at 80, Paterno is out of touch with today's elite athletes and their parents, that no kid who expects a football coach to smooch his tuchas would choose to play for a crotchety old-timer who might have his entire secondary standing in the center of a 107,282-seat stadium with Hefty bags in their hands. [No comment.] Surely, there are opposing coaches who already have tried to use Paterno's punishment against him in their daily recruiting skirmishes, and maybe that strategy (“You don't want to be picking ... up ... trash ... do you?”) works sometimes. It also sends a terrible message: that at certain programs, an athlete can check his personal accountability at the door. [Penn State - uncompromising in its punishment of misdeeds.]

Remember, too: A university's judicial affairs system is no more bound by due process than a coach's conscience is, and a few recent, high-profile cases have proven that agendas and biases aren't the sole provinces of coaches and big-time boosters.

In 2002, after Penn State's judicial affairs body had expelled defensive back Anwar Phillips for two semesters on accusations of sexual assault, the university's president, Graham Spanier, publicly chastised Paterno for suiting up Phillips in a bowl game, only to look foolish when Phillips was easily acquitted of all charges in Center County court. And if the Duke lacrosse scandal didn't reveal that college administrations and faculties aren't necessarily strongholds of integrity and justice, nothing does.

This doesn't make Paterno infallible — just a man with a measure of integrity, which these days is enough to stand out among the sinners. [John Wayne talk.]

“I'm not sure that there's not a lot of parents who wouldn't see that as a value,” said Cappelletti, a father of four. “If you're not a parent or don't have young adult kids, you may not understand this. At some point, someone taking action like that can be very refreshing. Some parents and athletes going into the process may say, "I'm not going to play for a guy who makes me pick up trash.' But I think the kids realize they did something wrong. [SOS loves it when coaches call the lads kids.]

“It's as much a part of life as it is anything with football. It might be a little embarrassing to a point, but they'll never do something like this again.”

If they do, their punishment will again be Joe Paterno's call. His program, his decision. Always. [Choke. Blubber.]

(PS: One sportswriter lists ten things he's looking forward to this college football season. Number 3 is

'Seeing the Gameday piece on Penn State football players cleaning Beaver Stadium and then having Desmond Howard sit down with select players and ask, "So, do you think you'll ever home-invade again?"')