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Kovacevic: At Penn State, they all must go

| Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2011

UNIVERSITY PARK — There might not be a more idyllic setting for higher education than the 156-year-old campus of The Pennsylvania State University, with its quaint architecture and quiet feel, wrapped in a topographical triumph of rolling hills and majestic Mount Nittany.

A week ago, one might have understood why some would go to any lengths to preserve its isolation.

Not anymore.

The school's seismic child rape scandal reached a new low Tuesday with Joe Paterno's weekly news conference being canceled, Paterno's son blaming university president Graham Spanier, unfulfilled plans for Paterno to hold his own news conference, multiple reports that the Board of Trustees wants to dump Paterno and all kinds of social mayhem in the hours that followed.

All these people need to go.

That means anyone associated with the grand jury investigation charging former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky with 40 counts related to sexual abuse of children.

Spanier needs to go.

Paterno needs to go.

They might not need to go to jail. That's for the judicial system to decide. But they need to go.

Not after the Nebraska game Saturday, not after bowl season.

Right now.

If you want to know how something so heinous as the allegations against Sandusky could have stayed a secret for so long in such a public setting, look at the outrageous state of denial Penn State and the involved parties have demonstrated since the bubble-bursting weekend.

On Saturday, when the grand jury formally implicated athletic director Tim Curley and senior vice president for finance Gary Schultz for failing to report suspected crimes, Spanier issued a bizarre statement in which he timidly described himself as "troubled" by the Sandusky allegations — how about horrified or sickened• — and then expressed "unconditional support" for Curley and Schultz.

What a stupid thing to say, even if just in the name of self-preservation.

On Sunday, Paterno issued a written statement in which he waited all the way until the second sentence to let us know, "I did what I was supposed to with the one charge brought to my attention." That charge, as presented in the grand jury report, was Sandusky raping a 10-year-old boy in the campus' football building in 2002. According to the report, Paterno was informed of the incident at the time by eyewitness Mike McQueary, then a graduate assistant and now a full-time assistant coach.

Paterno's statement went on to say McQueary never told him of the "very specific events" in the report, which left open the colossal question as to how much Paterno needed to hear. Just put the words "man," "boy," and "shower" together, and most folks dial 911 before the sentence reaches its exclamation point.

His stance is beyond belief.

That same day, McQueary's father told reporters his son could not be reached for comment because he was on a recruiting trip.

As in talking to families?

That evening, an ESPN crew knocked on the door of Sandusky's house, and he emerged wearing a Penn State sweater.

Why even answer the door• Did he think it was a neighbor with a freshly baked cake?

Later Sunday night, Penn State's Board of Trustees conducted an emergency meeting, after which it felt compelled to make known that the statuses of Spanier and Paterno never were discussed.

Assuming you believe that, try to imagine a group entrusted with the well-being of a university talking for three hours and somehow avoiding two men mentioned prominently in such an investigation.

On Tuesday, Scott Paterno, one of the coach's sons, repeatedly blamed Spanier for the cancellation of his father's weekly press conference, setting the stage for a public hissing match between a university president and a university icon over who might be less culpable in a child molestation case.

That should end well.

Finally, late last night, the Board issued another statement declaring it will begin — wait for it — forming a committee. Primarily to investigate the investigation. And yes, that was future tense. They'll get around to that committee sometime.

What a travesty.

The faculty doesn't deserve this. The researchers who this very week announced progress in preventing kidney failure don't deserve this. Neither do the 80,000 students or the 550,000 living alumni, including a nationwide high of 22,000 in Allegheny County.

At the same time, how that greater community responds will help define Penn State's recovery.

By nightfall Tuesday, hundreds of students and fans gathered outside Paterno's house to cheer on their coach, who briefly emerged to thank them, to acknowledge the victims and to break out in a near-giddy "We are ... Penn State!" chant right there on his front lawn. Duly moved, perhaps, thousands of students took to the streets of State College well past midnight to protest Spanier and to praise Paterno.

What a contrast it was earlier in the day when David Baran, a 1975 graduate, burned his diploma on the steps of Old Main and said of the school's administration, "I want nothing to do with these people."

He was one of a dozen protesters there.

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