In my wallet, there’s a Cal-Berkeley Visa check card. I did not attend Cal. I have no intention of trying to get into a Cal Master’s program; my undergrad GPA sucked, and I don’t have a spare arm or a leg to donate to that fine institution. I got the Cal Visa check card for two reasons: I get better fees, and I’m an obsessed rugby fan, former player, and the current coach of the Carlsbad Thunder, my kid’s rugby team. Cal has the best college rugby team in the nation (arguably the most successful team in ANY college sport over the past thirty years), my seven-year-old son loves playing, and until recently my dream for him was to one day see him don the number 11 yellow-and-blue Bears jersey.
Penn State made me question all that.
As more and more nauseating details emerge, as the possibility of a cover-up involving coaches, school officials, and possibly a local judge become the horrific stuff of reality and not the paranoid imaginings of conspiracy theorists – this New York Times article is a must-read – the question looms large: why? Why would anyone want to protect a man who – and I refuse to mince words here, because no other phrase suffices – raped children?
The answer’s simple. One only has to go a few hundred miles west of Happy Valley to find it. South Bend, Indiana, to be precise, home of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
In 1991, Notre Dame entered into an unprecedented deal with NBC: for $38 million, NBC would have exclusive rights to broadcast all of Notre Dame’s home games through 1995. Three more extensions were signed through 2008, and in 2008, the contract was extended to go through 2015. Currently, NBC is paying Notre Dame about $15 million a year. On a per-game basis, Notre Dame is receiving more money than any other university; despite the team’s less-than-stellar record over the past few years, viewership is still strong, and there’s no indication that the relationship between NBC and Notre Dame won’t go beyond the 25 year mark.
Do the math. That’s a lot of money. To be sure, Notre Dame is a unique case, but it’s the best example of what NCAA Division I football has become – a huge business, and a major source of revenue for universities across the country. It’s worth noting that in most articles you read about Notre Dame, someone inevitably notes that Notre Dame “does it right” – high graduation percentages, generous scholarships to needy students, no NCAA rap sheet. It’s also worth nothing that until very recently, the same was said of Penn State. Endowments, endorsements, sponsorships, BCS appearance money – Penn State had a lot of cash on the line, and if anything could cause that to go away, it’d be news that an assistant coach had been raping kids in Joe Paterno’s locker room for years. Is it such a stretch to think that the Penn State athletic department and university officials would do whatever they could to keep that money from drying up?
Truth be told, I’ve never been a huge NCAA football fan. I have friends and relatives who’ll watch the games every Saturday, all of ’em, regardless of who’s playing. When my alma mater San Diego State has a game on TV, sure, I’ll grab a beer and hit the couch and watch. But now, when I do, I won’t be able to shake the knowledge that I, and you, and millions of other TV viewers/consumers, helped enable a monster. Because it’s a basic, banal truth: without an audience, there’s no money. Without millions on the line for Penn State, there’s no need to protect a rapist.
As a coach and a parent, I believe that sports can be a fantastic and transformative experience for children; the events at Penn State won’t change that. As for my kid, I still hope he makes the Cal Rugby team. It’s a club sport, far removed from the economics of big money DI athletics. If that means he goes to school on an academic scholarship, so much the better.