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The Cowardly Lion and the Land of Giants

I first met Ron McBride at a football camp when I was in high school. He was just as I had imagined him to be: highly energetic, superstitious, and most of all an incredible coach.

Several years later after he had been fired as Utah’s head football coach and Utah had accepted an invitation to join the Pac-12 Conference, I wrote Ron McBride an email thanking him for bringing Utah football back from the dead.

I wasn’t the only Utah fan who wrote Ron McBride that day. Thousands of Utah fans wrote to thank him for what he had done for Utah football. Coach McBride was the type of man who took the time to write every Utah fan back, and not just some form letter either. He wrote each fan a personalized note.

When I received my note, I put him on an even higher pedestal. And his stature in my mind was already really high. After all, that’s what sports fans do—they idolize their team’s greatest coaches  For me that means I’ve idolized Ron McBride, Urban Meyer, Kyle Whittingham, Jerry Sloan, Rick Majerus, and Mike Shanahan. These men are all larger than life in my eyes. My idolization of great coaches didn’t end with the coaches of my favorite teams either. I idolized Joe Paterno as well.

As college athletics drifted towards the realm of multi-billion dollar businesses, Joe Pa seemed to be a throwback and a reminder of everything that college football should embody. He was a grandfatherly figure who lived in a rather modest home, donated significant portions of his salary to charity, and taught his teams to play fundamentally sound football. How could anyone not love the lovable Joe Pa?

My how the mighty have fallen. The level to which the administration and the coaches at Penn State were willing to sink in order to further Penn State football still seems unimaginable to me. That someone would cover up the acts of a child rapist for years, all in the name of a sport, is exactly what has gone so wrong with college sports in general.

The student athletes at these major universities are no longer student athletes. They’re people who help the universities make millions of dollars each year. Penn State brought in approximately $116,000,000 in athletics revenue in 2011 alone. That’s a significant stack of cash for any university claiming its institution is primarily centered on academics.

It has all become too much. The stakes are too high. The money is too great. College football has lost its way, and the extents to which Joe Paterno was willing to go in order to protect Penn State is further proof of that fact.

Jay Bilas, an ESPN basketball commentator, recently ranted on ESPN that the NCAA should not step in and punish Penn State football. He argued that the individuals involved in the Sandusky affair are being penalized criminally, so that there is no real reason for the football institution itself to be penalized. I would be embarrassed to publicly argue for that proposition on any type of public forum, let alone ESPN. Children were raped in order to save the reputation of Penn State football. Therefore, that institution deserves to be punished. The world needs to see that a sport, no matter how profitable it becomes, should not be valued over the safety of children.

The men at these institutions are role models, whether they want to be perceived as such or not. Fathers teach their sons and daughters about these men because they consider these men to be great. And then children just like me grow up idolizing these coaching figures. It is time for collegiate athletics to be reigned back in because parents shouldn’t have to explain to their children why the grandfatherly Coach Joe Pa covered up years of child rape so that Penn State football could remain competitive.

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