Penn State case gives us pause

In times of tragedy, groups of people across America are often asked to observe a moment of silence to honor those whose suffering is, to the rest of us, unimaginable.

Many hoped the NCAA would impose the so-called “death penalty’ on Penn State, shutting down its football program and shutting out the lights at Beaver Stadium. It would have been a moment of silence for the university.

It could have been a time for everyone at Penn State, in the State College community and also those in charge of other universities and other football programs, to remember what occurred there.

It is bad enough that former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky used his status with the athletic department to woo many of his 45 victims, sometimes abusing them on the university’s premises. But the scandal was intensified when the culture of football supremacy influenced those, including head coach Joe Paterno, who could have protected some of Sandusky’s victims, to look the other way.

In his report, former FBI director Louis Freeh said Penn State had permitted Paterno and his legendary football program to control the university. Through his good works and winning programs, Paterno had achieved such status that good, intelligent people in a position to do the right thing could not find the will to do so.

To a lesser degree, that scenario could be played out at universities and colleges throughout the United States. College football has grown into such a money-making business that the temptation to protect a program’s reputation, at any cost, could occur almost anywhere.

Football programs generate revenue that schools use to fund smaller, less popular sports, adding to the college experience of many young people who will never earn millions playing professionally. Its popularity and financial success does other good works, too, and those must be recognized.

But if the Penn State scandal teaches us anything, it is that the college football pendulum has swung too far in the gridiron’s favor.

All college football programs need a moment of silence to think about whether they have allowed athletics to dominate their school, and if they need to rein in a sport that has gotten too big to fail.