December 1, 2011

University of New Hampshire: fans can't ignore child-sex scandals

12-1-2011 New Hampshire:

But it could never happen here, right?

One month, two mind-blowing child-sex abuse scandals within two of the preeminent programs in college sports.

Former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky faces charges that he sexually molested eight boys over a period of 15 years, a scandal that has rocked the university, already resulting of the firing of the university president and iconic football coach Joe Paterno, and athletic director Tim Curley getting placed on administrative leave for their roles in a cover-up.

Longtime Syracuse assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine was fired on Sunday in the wake of accusations that he molested young ball boys. Speculation is whether iconic head basketball coach Jim Boeheim can distance himself from it enough to keep his job.

The two scandals have thrust a spotlight into the corners of big-time college athletics that few fans spend time thinking about, the stuff that goes on with middle-aged men when they're not on the sideline in plain view.

They've also put more focus on awareness.

"The fact of the matter is, we talk about this sort of thing, not just child sex abuse, all the time," said UNH athletics director Marty Scarano, who is a Penn State grad and former member of the athletic department there. "I think (people) know UNH well enough that we take these things very seriously here."

It's easy to muster outrage and disgust at the thought of grown men forcing themselves sexually onto anybody, never mind young boys. But now administrators like Scarano know they'll be held to an even higher degree of what-did-they-know and when-did-they-know-it should something criminal happen in their domains.

Scarano, who's always maintained that it's his job at UNH to "coach the coaches," said he's used the widespread publicity of these scandals as a "coachable moment." He sent out a memo last week to all staffers, reminding them, among other things, of the Clery Act, which demands colleges and universities report any information about crimes, and publish annual crime statistics.

Last year, the University System of New Hampshire's general counsel and secretary, Ron Rodgers, ran a protocol meeting attended by all of the school's head coaches. One of the points hammered home was the issue of transparency, and how important it is at a place like UNH.

"My coaches know how we expect them to conduct themselves and we're not going to suppress any information," said Scarano.

Penn State and Syracuse. If there were two more iconic college sports programs when I was growing up in the 1980s, I didn't follow them.

Nittany Lions football, under Paterno, was the good guy in the white hat (and black shoes), the no-nonsense team with nationwide appeal that was more substance than style, and could still go toe-to-toe with the flashy, corrupt powers like Miami and Oklahoma.

Syracuse, in addition to being the best team in the East — Dom Perno was still at UConn back then, not Jim Calhoun — had the Dome, the most exciting and intriguing setting to watch a college basketball game in the country.

I still remember my first trip to the Dome, during spring break from college in 1993, sitting two rows from the court during the opening rounds of the NCAA tournament and staring up into forever.

"Where's your tan?" quipped my father, upon my return.

Now, the architect of that success at Syracuse, Boeheim, is fighting for his life and legacy. At first dismissive of the allegations against Fine, his longtime friend and colleague, he'd softened his stance a bit in comments made after Tuesday's 84-48 over Eastern Michigan.

"I'm saddened in many ways by what's unfolded," said Boeheim. "When the investigation is done, we'll find out what happened on my watch."

The role of a big-time sports program, especially in non-urban areas like State College, Pa., and to some degree Syracuse, N.Y., a small city in a rural part of the state, is tough to understand fully unless you're part of it.

Described as the "economic engines" of their regions, these programs produce not just a winning sports team to cheer for in the fall or winter, but millions of revenue dollars, thousands of jobs and a sense of program-as-community. It makes the men who run these programs god-like.

One story to come out of the Penn State scandal sums it up perfectly. When the university president asked the 84-year-old Paterno a few years back to retire, JoePa simply said no.

Tough to imagine any coach — or program — building up that kind of omnipotent power in Durham.

"It's easy for us to say (something like this could never happen) because there aren't tens of millions of dollars at stake," said Scarano. "But, while we don't have that kind of money in play, it comes down to a moral compass."

Scarano, a Pittsburgh native, graduated from Penn State in 1978. From 1980-83 he worked in the school's athletic department.

"I just pulled out one of the old football media guides," he said. "My picture is side by side with Tim Curley. It's very poignant for me."

As sports fans, the tendency is often to wish these stories would go away. It's why thousands of Penn State students flocked to a rally supporting Paterno the day after he was fired and why the Syracuse community seems to be going out of its why to steer the focus back to X's and O's, opponents and rankings.

Even in our state, fans would probably rather read about how the UNH football team is preparing for its upcoming Division I playoff game at Montana State than what its administrators are doing to take steps against potentially criminal behavior in their own backyards.

But burying our heads in the sand and pretending it's sports business as usual would be the worst thing we could do.

Provided we're all in agreement that we never want to see tragedies like these happen again. ..Source.. by Mike Zhe

No comments: