Warren Hartenstine, a Havre de Grace resident who was a member of former Penn State head coach Joe Paterno's first varsity team in 1966, personally knows all the principals in the Jerry Sandusky sex scandal that led to unprecedented NCAA sanctions being imposed on the school's.
Like many Penn State alums in Harford County, Hartenstine says he's saddened by the scandal and the impact it has had on the school.
"Jerry Sandusky was my student recruiter, and I was on Paterno's first team when he became head coach," Hartenstine, a longtime Harford resident, said Tuesday. "Sandusky was one of the people you were sure wouldn't ever do something his mother said not to do, and up until the disclosure of his crimes, that was the prevailing image most people held of him."
"What amazes me, much more than the NCAA's sanctions, is how the Penn State leadership handled everything," he said. "It took possession of Sandusky's crimes, and rather than acting with indignity, or concern, it put itself, institutionally, in the role of the criminal. Yesterday's [NCAA] consequences are the result of poor leadership. Each of the moves the [Penn State] board of trustees has made has been as bumbling as the thief who hides behind the curtain with his shoe sticking out. It was a failure of leadership of immense proportions."
Hartenstine, a former assistant dean at both Slippery Rock and Rutgers University, said the NCAA's punishment, though directed at the Penn State administrators that mismanaged the crisis and allegedly covered up Sandusky's crimes, will be felt most by the members of the football team.
"They haven't punished Sandusky in any meaningful way, and they haven't touched any of his victims with the decision," he said. "The people that are really being punished are the 100-plus kids on the team, 70 of whom come from moderate income families, like I did. Looking at the history of the program, out of that 100 there will probably be seven CEO's of companies, a number will go on to be vice presidents and directors of corporations, and it's those people, as alumni, that support 30 other athletic programs at Penn State. What we've done is harmed the kids."
"I'd been following everything for a couple days leading up to the announcement," Patrick McGrady, a 2008 Penn State graduate from Aberdeen, said. "The rumors were that there was going to be a $30 million fine, and I'd heard others about the program being eliminated. The $60 million fine was strong, but what I found really shocking was that they vacated all those wins, and it's strange that the school isn't going to challenge that decision."
"They have recourse with the NCAA, but I think at this point the school just wants out of the firestorm and to move ahead," McGrady, who narrowly lost an election for mayor of Aberdeen last fall, continued. "Everything that came out of the Sandusky case was just horrible, especially what happened to the victims. It was an example of bad crisis management, at all levels. People kept quiet when they shouldn't have, there was assumed guilt before there was ever a trial, the Penn State board of trustees fired Paterno on the phone when he lived two blocks away. It was a mess."
Ernie Grady, of Havre de Grace, a 1978 graduate of Penn State and a longtime Nittany Lions football season ticket holder, had a few more pointed opinions on the NCAA's decision.
"It's a real mess," Grady said. "I think it's wrong what the NCAA has decided to do, because I don't believe that the people they're punishing are the culprits. What was done to Coach Paterno, with taking all those victories away, is completely wrong."
"The Sandusky scandal, that was a complete tragedy, especially for those kids involved, and in the grand scheme of things, those wins they [vacated], and Penn State maybe not being a good team for the next few years, that's a minor issue," he said. "But, I still think they're coming after the wrong people."
"Also," Grady said, "I think the NCAA has set itself up for a fall with this decision. If something similar to this happens in the future, the NCAA is going to be expected to pursue it, and if they don't, then everyone, especially the Penn State community, is going to jump all over them. I think the NCAA has been a mess for a long time, and they've pushed themselves pretty close to the edge on this one."
The NCAA on Monday vacated each of the 112 victories Penn State accumulated from 1998 to 2011, pushing 45-year head coach Paterno's record, previously the best in the history of college football, to 12th on the all-time list. The program received a $60 million fine, a four-year ban on post-season play, a reduction of 10 scholarships per year, a five-year probation period and the team's current and incoming players will be allowed to transfer without having to sit out one season, which is the customary penalty.
The sanctions come in the wake former PSU assistant coach Sandusky's June conviction on 48 counts of sexual abuse and the July 12 release of a report by former FBI director Louis Freeh, which stated that Mr. Paterno, former Penn State president Graham Spanier, athletic director Tim Curley, vice president Gary Shultz and various Penn State employees were aware Sandusky molested adolescent males, often in school facilities, and that their nonfeasance helped him continue doing so for more than a decade.
The punishment is also without precedent in that the football program did not directly violate any NCAA rules, and the sanctions were meted out to "correct what was seen as a horrifically egregious situation in collegiate athletics," NCAA President Mark Emmert said.
The most notable local connection to the Penn State football program is former 12-year NFL veteran and Aberdeen High School grad Irvin Pankey, who played offensive tackle under Paterno from 1977 to 1979 and was team captain his senior year. While in high school, Pankey was personally recruited by Mr. Paterno, who died in January after stepping down as coach when the Sandusky scandal broke last fall.
Pankey, now a resident of Visalia, Calif., had nothing to say Monday afternoon about the news from his alma mater. "Sorry, I don't have any comment," he said.
Where does the scandal and its fallout leave Penn State and its football program? The local alums believe the college may not be able to rub out the dark spot on its history, but that the football team, its new coaching staff and its supporters will push to bring the Nittany Lions out this shameful episode.
"There will always be an asterisk next to Penn State football, and the scandal will always be called the worst fill-in-the-blank in college history," Hartenstine said. "I believe [new head coach]Bill O'Brienwill help the program through this. He's got 100 great athletes, and if he can succeed with 15 scholarships instead of 25, the impact on the program could be, to some extent, mitigated. Also, the people who buy the tickets to Penn State games, the sense of community that they have, that makes them hated by fans of other schools, will possibly create a more favorable reaction as time goes on. I don't know though; it's very hard to predict. This is part of the team and school's legacy now, and there's nothing we can do about that."
"Penn State has always had a community that honors dignity and respect, and with this darkness now on the resume, it's going to be important for everyone to stick to those principles, to not forget what makes Penn State what it is," McGrady said. "It's going to be a long road."