Who is Penn State?

By Kolby Paxton

Jerry Sandusky is no longer an assistant coach at the Pennsylvania State University.

Tim Curley is not the athletic director. Gary Shultz is not the senior vice president of the school’s finances. Graham Spanier is no longer the president of the university, and Joe Paterno is no longer breathing.

David Joyner, the school’s acting athletic director, was an orthopedic surgeon at the time of the most recent cover-up. Bill O’Brien was the offensive coordinator at Georgia Tech.

Michael Zordich, a Penn State legacy, and linebacker Michael Mauti were in middle school.

I mention all of this because it has so apparently been disregarded by Mark Emmert and the NCAA hall monitors.

Sandusky is a monster; that much is far from debatable. Frankly, the term “monster,” given its overuse, does little to describe the bloodcurdling propensity of an individual once thought to be good and decent. That this beast in the unassuming, avuncular cloak was protected and enabled by an entire group of university leaders is alarmingly repugnant.

According to the Freeh Report, on at least two occasions, 1998 and 2001, there were a multitude of clear indications that Sandusky was sexually abusing children – including a first-hand account from graduate assistant Mike McQueary. In each case, the most powerful people at Penn State chose not to act; electing, instead, to protect the reputation of Sandusky and – most importantly – Paterno’s program.

Following Sandusky’s retirement in 1999, he was given an “emeritus” rank that – incredibly – allowed for lifetime access to campus locker rooms and showers, along with weight rooms, fitness facilities and training rooms. He was also given, under the approval of Spanier, a one-time payment of $168,000 as a sort of swollen pension. He had keys to all of the buildings, as well as football season tickets and undeterred access to the Nittany Lion Club.

The university even agreed to align itself with The Second Mile, Sandusky’s sham of a children’s charity.

When faced with outing the defensive coordinator of the football team, Schultz reportedly wrote, “There is a more humane and up front way to handle this.” Spanier warned of possible repercussions, suggesting that the “only downside” related to protecting a sexual predator would come with the absence of plausible deniability in the event of a relapse. Together, the two men, along with Curley and Paterno, elected to gently reprimand Sandusky and shower him with parting gifts.

Their “humane” treatment was nothing short of inhumane, in that it actually prolonged and assisted the disgusting, deplorable actions of a known pedophile. That reality was ignored at the urging of an aging, delusional football coach.

As it turns out, the Paterno that we thought we knew did not exist. He was not a man of flawless morals. He was not a leader and protector of young people. He was not the familiar, amiable JoePa.

Perhaps that is not fair to say. Perhaps, at a certain point in his life, Paterno was all of those things. But, near the end, he was nothing more than an egomaniacal dictator, drunk on his own legacy, that cared about nothing other than his own Penn State – which is not to be confused with the Penn State of others. In the end, it was clear that he would protect the outward appearance of his program at all costs. And he did.

Had Paterno not rapidly succumbed to cancer in January, he would likely be subject to the very same perjury charges that Curley and Schultz currently face. Penn State committed appalling transgressions of civil and criminal laws, for which there exists civil and criminal courts. Those involved should – and will – pay dearly for harboring a child rapist.

The school did not, however, commit a single violation of any NCAA bylaw. Not one. There was no pay-for-play, no improper phone calls, no tattoo bartering or jerseys being sold on eBay. The circus has been completely disbanded; the puppet master is covered in dirt, the freak show is behind bars, and the puppets are sure to join him soon. The all–but–irreparable damage has been done, most of it self-inflicted, none of it related to something as trivial as Mark Emmert’s code of amateurism.

But, as Emmert continually reminds us, he simply cannot resist the urge to over-legislate. Whether or not the situation calls for it is irrelevant.

Masked in a righteous disguise, Emmert disregarded his jurisdiction, instead setting an indefensible precedent. The NCAA’s groundless punishment of extreme proportions included a four-year post-season ban, the vacating of all wins from 1998-2011, and a completely random $60 million fine.

Of course, the sole purpose for rescinding wins that were acquired fair and square – something that has never, in the history of collegiate athletics, been done – was simply to knock Paterno down out of the record books; though, much to the chagrin of the NCAA, Agent K will not be showing up with a neuralizer to erase the memories of those wins, let alone the memory of how it ended. And never mind the fact that a man in Emmert’s position has no legal right to strip funds from a public university, the $60 million fine is mostly irrelevant given the likelihood that beset boosters replenish those funds in no time flat. None of that is really the point.

Emmert’s actions have done nothing to actually enforce accountability upon those responsible. The Freeh report did that. The court of law is doing that. If anything, Emmert has managed to redirect retribution and undue attention upon the current coaches and players – individuals that had absolutely nothing to do with any of this. In doing so, he has inadvertently crippled the school’s attempt to redefine itself post-Paterno. The 85-year old Paterno thought he was Penn State. By punishing a program, athletic department and university that is now void of Paterno’s presence, Emmert appears to be struggling to differentiate the two, as well.

“This program was not built by one man,” said Mauti. “And it’s sure as hell not going to get torn down by one man.”

Though, thanks to Emmert, it may very well be torn down by three men.

The Penn State campus is now swarmed by opposing coaches in pursuit of defectors; defectors who may have otherwise assisted in the rebuilding effort in Happy Valley. Instead, subsequent to the overzealous, extra-legal, extrajudicial judgment of the leader of a so-called non-profit organization, the program – which is currently serving as the talent pool of a pseudo supplemental draft – is in danger of falling right along with Paterno’s statue; one and the same.

“We’re proud of who we are,” said Zordich. “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.”

Unfortunately for Zordich and the rest of the true Penn Staters, the NCAA’s misguided, opportunistic pursuit of positive publicity upped the degree of difficulty considerably. As a result, Emmert has drastically increased the plausibility that a pedophile and a shockingly evil enabler forever define a once-great institution.

Emmert is no judge and he levied no justice. He merely compounded the injustice.

Top 12 in ’12 – No. 11 South Carolina Gamecocks

By Kolby Paxton

He wasn’t even carrying the ball.

With less than 10 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, it was freshman wide receiver Bruce Ellington who got the call on second-and-four from the South Carolina 45. Ellington skipped through a tackle en route to a 13-yard gain and a Gamecock first down.

Left in his wake, however, was All-Everything running back Marcus Lattimore.

Lattimore was screening for his teammate when his right knee was viciously tangled under a Mississippi State defender. Though team officials held out hope that the injury was merely a sprain, it was evident within moments of the incident that Steve Spurrier’s favorite player – perhaps, ever – was likely gone for the season.

Minutes later, quarterback Connor Shaw lofted a 4-yard touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffrey, and the Gamecocks avoided the upset, improving to 6-1 on the season. The once optimistic narrative was gone, however, as South Carolina’s hopes of an SEC Championship were carted off along with its star running back.

With apologies to Brandon Wilds, the Gamecocks’ back-up ball carrier is the Chris Comer to Lattimore’s Boobie Miles. The former is a serviceable back, able and reasonably efficient, if less than spectacular; the latter, a transcendent talent, capable of single-handedly carrying a team well beyond the realm for which it is adequately constructed.

Without “Terminator X,” the fictional Panthers were able to roll through the likes of Tascosa, Andress, Irving Nimitz and Arlington Lamar, but couldn’t even figure out where to play Dallas Carter’s team of 30-year olds – let alone how to beat them. A healthy Miles would have constructed Reliant Stadium with his bare hands, and run all over a defense dressed in equipment that did not yet exist, inside of a stadium that did not yet exist. Without “Crazy Legs,” the real-life Fightin’ Spurriers were able to get by Tennessee, Florida, and even in-state rival Clemson, but lost to Arkansas when its running game fizzled. A healthy Lattimore would have, at the very least, topped quarterback Connor Shaw’s team-leading 24 rushing yards.

On ability alone, Lattimore is the most talented college running back since Adrian Peterson. Like Peterson, South Carolina’s feature presentation combines hair trigger agility, breakneck speed, and indomitable power. Unlike Peterson, he packs said punch in a 236 pound frame, with an ultra-enviable lower body that more closely resembles that of Maurice Jones-Drew – a lower body that, incredibly, Lattimore claims he actually neglected until a blown ACL led him to the light.

Nevermind the wonderment that accompanies the realization that a human teenager was able to churn out 2,609 total yards in 20 games, while playing in the SEC and apparently disregarding his support appendages. Instead, simply consider that said human returns in 2012, joining the suddenly seasoned Connor Shaw, and what should be one of the conference’s best defenses.

The time has come for the highly touted Jadeveon Clowney to make his presence felt in Columbia.

Shaw benefited immensely – albeit under a fire storm – from the absence of Lattimore and Stephen Garcia. The then-sophomore simply wasn’t ready for the task at hand following the dismissal of Garcia – hence the rationale behind his troubled predecessor’s nine lives. But Shaw grew into the role over the course of the campaign, eventually leading the Gamecocks in rushing three times in their final six games, including a 317–total yard, four touchdown effort versus the rival-Tigers in the regular season finale.

If the South Carolina secondary can keep pace with the rest of the unit, the Gamecocks could trend in the direction of dominant defensively, and one of the nation’s best fronts figures to provide considerable handicapping. New defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward has one of college football’s best defensive end combos in senior Devin Taylor (six sacks in ’11) and sophomore Jadeveon Clowney.

Excluding Navy and the Citadel – who combined for a grand total of 12 pass attempts – South Carolina surrendered only 114 rushing yards per game in 2011, a credit to that aforementioned front, and an outstanding linebacking core. Senior Shaq Wilson led the Gamecocks in tackles in ’09, before injuries derailed the middle portion of his of his collegiate career. Wilson is healthy and the spearhead at middle linebacker. Ex-safety DeVonte Holloman joins Wilson at spur – a position for which he is perfectly suited to wreak havoc on SEC offenses. The group is as deep as it is talented, as well, with three returners who started at least four games a season ago.

Prediction: 9-3 (6-2)

With an able-bodied Marcus Lattimore, anything is possible for the Gamecocks in Spurrier’s eighth season at the helm. South Carolina has improved its win total in each of the past four seasons, but will need a dozen victories in 2012 to keep that streak intact. USC opens the month of October with a home tilt versus Georgia, before going on the road to Baton Rouge and Gainesville – no recipe for success. If that wasn’t enough, the Gamecocks sandwich a scrimmage versus the mighty Terriers of Wofford with the likes of Arkansas and Clemson.

Razorbacks will win by losing

By Kolby Paxton

A few years ago I wrote an article for my blog titled, “It’s the Shoes.” The piece was inspired by a trip to Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium for a late season matchup between Arkansas and Troy, in what was Bobby Petrino’s second season as head hog.

At the time, Petrino was only 11-11 in his first 22 games with the Razorbacks, but I was struck by the general disposition of the cardinal-clad faithful. This was the same state, town, and program that was leveled by the controversies surrounding Houston Nutt. Nutt vs. Malzahn; Nutt vs. Springdale; “Nutthuggers” vs. “Darksiders;” Emailers attacking freshman quarterbacks; a head coach that seemed more concerned with recruiting a local news reporter than he was with recruiting football players; Planes flying banners in protest – and they weren’t even from Texas. Total chaos. Resentful divide.

Suddenly, though, I was sitting amidst a euphoric, hog-calling crowd, watching a talented, exciting young team, and the light at the end of the tunnel was blinding. I called sophomore wide receivers Joe Adams, Greg Childs and Jarius Wright “big time college talents,” and they were. I referred to the backfield as “Southern Cal loaded,” and it was. Here is an exerpt of what I said next:

Petrino is an excellent recruiter. Adams, Childs, Wright, Johnson, Wingo, Davis, these guys are all sophomores or younger. The offense is taking flight because his guys are starting to hit the field. And the talent will continue to pour in. Remember how dominant Louisville was in the Big East a few years ago? Arkansas is a hell of a lot easier place to recruit to. Better college town, better college campus, some of the best facilities in the country, and, of course, the Southeastern Conference… Could Arkansas win the SEC? Could they compete for national championships? The sky seems like the limit.”

Little more than two years later, the stage was set. The Razorbacks reeled off a 21-5 record over the course of the next two seasons, losing a Sugar Bowl they should have won – to a team full of ineligible-ish, eligible participants – and throttling eighth-ranked Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl. Every single one of the players that I prematurely lauded as underclassmen realized their potential – an extreme rarity – and, as an added bonus, quarterback Tyler Wilson emerged as an even better quarterback than Ryan Mallett.

Wilson was on the cusp of leading a star-studded senior class (Cobi Hamilton, Chris Gragg, Tenarius Wright and Alonzo Highsmith, among others) into 2012, and for the first time since a compulsively dishonest head coach deceived an entire town, Arkansas’ recruiting class was shaping up as one of the best in the nation. It seemed as though the Hogs would win big in February, win even bigger in the fall, and the lingering demons of Jack Crowe, Danny Ford and Nutt would finally be exorcised in favor of a return to the prominence of yesteryear.

Then, on Feb. 1, National Signing Day, junior college stand-out Courtney Gardner chose Oklahoma. T.J. Yeldon signed with the Crimson Tide, Trey Williams picked Texas A&M, Chaz Elder chose South Carolina, and Thomas Johnson decided to spend the next four years losing to the Sooners in the Red River Rivalry.

Dorial Green-Beckham, the nation’s top overall recruit, leaned toward Fayetteville throughout the recruiting process. But an eleventh hour push from the home-state Missouri Tigers proved decisive, as DGB broke the collective heart of Hog Country on national television. Days later, when Arkansas’ consolation prize, wide receiver Devonte Neal, committed to Notre Dame, the Razorbacks watched in disbelief as the school finished as the runner-up in the sweepstakes for each of its eight ESPN150 recruits.

Two months later, alongside a highway in Madison County, a motorcycle overturned.

The details of that particular crash and its profound impact on the University of Arkansas are well documented. Petrino is gone. A bankrupt John L. Smith is in. Hog fans, ever the eternal optimists, point to Wilson and Hamilton and Davis, and they say, “We’re going to be fine.” And, sure, the Razorbacks are loaded. And, yes, the gods of the SEC are taking it easy – as easy as SEC gods can take it – with Alabama and LSU coming to Fayetteville, and Georgia, Missouri and Florida missing from the schedule.

Still, it seems as though vindication may be short lived.

ESPN released its updated recruiting rankings Thursday, and Arkansas is noticeably absent. Two hundred and eight of the ESPN300 have given verbal commitments. Zero of those 208 are committed to the Razorbacks – which puts the Hogs one behind Texas State. The newest parcel of pigs – in the wake of an embarrassment of near misses – is highlighted by D’Arthur Cowan and Keon Hatcher; ranked No. 171 and No. 177, respectively.

Now, I know, recruiting rankings are flawed, yada, yada, and so on, and so forth. To some degree that’s correct, but mostly only as it applies to the Lorenzo Bookers and Bryce Browns of the world – overhyped kids that failed to fulfill expectations at the next level. Rarely, on the other hand, do overlooked preps come from the depths of two- and three-stars to lead programs. The only reason it may seem relatively prevalent, is that it’s a lot more fun to talk about Sam Bradford than it is Tim Tebow. For every Mark Ingram, there are hundreds of Jim Youngbloods.

Tyler Wilson, Joe Adams, Jarius Wright, Knile Davis, Cobi Hamilton – all four-star recruits. I’ll see your Jake Bequette and raise you ten Freddy Burtons. The only ones complaining about flawed rankings are the ones missing out on the top-shelf talent.

The point is, recruiting matters, and it is going to catch up to the Hogs during the next few seasons. No one likes to take a step back when the previous ascension has occurred as rapidly and consistently as it has at Arkansas, but you can’t win the SEC West with a locker room full of three-star recruits, and that is precisely the barrel down which the Razorbacks are currently staring.

Jeff Long handled the Petrino situation as well as any athletic director could have. Hiring a familiar interim shot caller, rather than rushing into a Garrick McGee hire, was absolutely the correct choice. But no one is going to commit to a guy that is in the midst of a 10-month contract. For that matter, even if Smith was under a 10-year contract, no one from that hard-to-reach shelf is signing on to play for him over Hugh Freeze and James Franklin – let alone Nick Saban and Urban Meyer.

Unlike every M. Night Shyamalan film ever written, Arkansas’ enormous motorcycle – er, I mean train – wreck was impossible to predict. Six months ago, we knew exactly where the program was headed – until we didn’t.

Amid this nearly comical catastrophe, the Razorbacks are left with one more undeniable conundrum: Smith needs to lose. Any blind hog caller pulling for a Sugar Bowl run is missing the big picture. Even as few as two losses likely sends Arkansas’ temporary care-taker packing. Three seals the deal. But, if Wilson & Co. pile up 11 wins and a Sugar Bowl berth? Well, then there’s a chance that Long pulls a Bill Stewart.

With potential replacements like Gus Malzahn, Steve Sarkisian and Gary Patterson dangling along the realm of possibility, settling for a mediocre head coach with minimal recruiting stroke would prove immeasurably detrimental to the development of the school’s most important program – perhaps even stunting its growth for yet another generation.

Much like Ohio State (Urban Meyer) and North Carolina (Larry Fedora) achieved considerable gain through the losses of Luke Fickell and Everett Withers, the Hogs will be in a position to do the same, subsequent to the relative failure of John L. Smith.

The time has come for calculated patience.

Unibrows and wizardry

By Kolby Paxton

The 2012 NBA Draft sparked an interesting day of commentary along the airwaves and interwebs – particularly as it related to Thunder guard James Harden.

I was shocked to find that even some of my most knowledgeable friends and associates were letting the rumor mill get the best of them; giving way to mid-afternoon panic at the thought of swapping the Sixth Man of the Year for a draft pick – even if it was with the apparent intention of drafting Florida’s Bradley Beal.

Nothing against Beal. I think he’s got a shot to become a nice player in the NBA. But you don’t trade a player like Harden for a prospect like Beal. This wasn’t the 2003 draft. Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade weren’t on the board.

Nothing against my concerned comrades, but their plight was never real. Sam Presti liked Beal. He may have even liked him enough to move Serge Ibaka for him. He definitely liked him enough to move virtually any combination of the other non-super heroes on the roster. But he never liked him enough to move Harden.

Rest easy, Loud City. Your team is navigated by the best general manager in professional basketball. The anti-Daryl Morey, if you will.

One week ago, Harden said that he “loves it” in Oklahoma City, and that he expects a contract extension sooner than later.

“They’ll do a pretty good job of working it out,” he said. “They’ll figure it out and it’ll be done. This is something special here. A dynasty is being built here. So we’re winning, we’re having fun and we’re brothers.”

Nevermind a certain Wayans Brothers jingle that springs to mind – though it would apply. Harden, along with Ibaka and Eric Maynor, are eligible to negotiate extensions to their rookie deals as of today. At least two of them figure to do so in the coming months.

As for the draft, itself, here’s one last Three Pointer at the proverbial buzzer.

1.) I do not fear “The Brow”

Count me among those who are not enthralled with the professional prospects of Anthony Davis.

What’s that? I’m all alone? Fine, but hear me out.

I’m not saying that Davis won’t ever be a nice pro. I think he has a solid 12-14 year career in the league, during much of which he’s good for a consistent double-double. But Tim Duncan meets Kevin Garnett? Seriously? Maybe I’m just too hung up on his short comings, but I don’t see it.

I see Tayshaun Prince 2.0.

As for the stupid looking unibrow, itself: Give me a break. That’s not a trademark, that’s poor hygiene.

2.) A player worth rooting for

So often it seems, we’re stuck looking the other way as the athletes that we support disappoint us. They take their ability for granted. They’re out of touch. There appears to be very little depth to them.

Then there’s Thomas Robinson.

In 2010, when Robinson was a sophomore at Kansas, he received a call from his little sister Jayla. His grandmother had died. A few weeks later, Jayla called again to inform him that their grandfather had also passed away, followed by their mother, who died of a heart attack.

In a span of three weeks, the pair – who were raised without their father – lost it all. Robinson stepped up and vowed to take care of his sister, now 9 years old.

Thursday night, when Sacramento selected him with the fifth overall pick, he made good on that promise.

He hugged Jayla, fought back tears, and shook hands with David Stern. When he began to speak with ESPN’s Mark Jones those emotions flooded to the surface. Jones moved his line of questioning to basketball, asking how the newest member of the Kings was able to go from sixth man to All-American. Robinson, who was visibly struggling for words uttered the most telling, moving non-answer in the history of NBA Draft interviews.

“I’m not stopping for nobody,” he said. “I’ve got work to do and Imma do it.”

Here’s to Thomas Robinson. I wish Jayla’s big brother nothing but success.

3.) Presti is a draft wizard…

…in that he casts a spell on the owners and general managers of teams drafting ahead of the Thunder, preventing them from selecting his guy.

In 2007, he coerced the Portland Trailblazers into picking Greg Oden instead of Kevin Durant. In 2008, he tricked the Heat and Timberwolves into going with Michael Beasley and O.J. Mayo, respectively – leaving the Thunder with a pair of UCLA stars to choose from. He must have also chuckled aloud as teams unknowingly reserved Serge Ibaka for the OKC front court, instead selecting guys like Alexis Ajinca, Kosta Koufos and Walter Sharpe – and no, I don’t know who any of them are, either.

In 2009, he stunted the growth of the rival Memphis Grizzlies by bewitching Chris Wallace into an ill-advised selection of Hasheem Thabeet. A year later, Presti and the Thunder were so gorged from drafting four Olympians in three years, that the team elected to lend a helping hand to the NBA’s laughing stock, drafting Eric Bledsoe and dealing him to the Clippers.

The Wizard of the War Room was at it again Thursday night.

Baylor forward Perry Jones III was seemingly punished for returning to school, falling from the projected No. 1 overall pick, all the way down to the Thunder at No. 28, due to a meniscus tear in his knee.

Read that sentence again and tell me, with a straight face, that it makes any sense at all.

A meniscus tear. Not a ligament tear. Not a microfracture. Perry Jones – a guy that would have likely pushed Kyrie Irving to No. 2 had he come out after his freshman season – fell nearly completely out of the first round due to a knee injury so bad that he missed zero games from November to March; a knee injury so bad that he only managed 17 points and eight rebounds in Baylor’s Elite Eight loss to Kentucky; an injury so crippling that Jones was only able to lead a 30-win team in points and rebounds.

The Trail Blazers drafted Meyers Leonard 11th overall. The Bucks took all 187 pounds of John Henson at No. 14. The Pacers drafted Miles freaking Plumlee at No. 26.

The rival Mavericks – who seemed primed to make an impact acquisition with the 17th pick – drafted an absolute guaranteed stiff in North Carolina’s Tyler Zeller, and then didn’t even keep him.

The NBA champion Heat, who were picking directly in front of Oklahoma City, drafted Arnett Moultrie – simply a lesser version of Jones – and then shipped him to Philadelphia.

PJ3’s slide was incredible. But the behavior of some of the teams that continued to pass on him was inexplicable. As a result, the Thunder, drafting at the end of the first round, left New Jersey armed with yet another lottery pick – and this one has a chip on his shoulder.

I’m telling you. Forget Emerson College. Presti is a graduate of Hogwarts.