July 22, 2012 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Penn State Hockey Faces Tough Start Either Way

by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor

The troubles at Penn State are well known to anyone not living under a rock. But how it affects the nascent hockey program is another matter.

Whatever it is, we know this — this is not what coach Guy Gadowsky envisioned when he arrived singing the praises of the "Penn State family."

There's still a lot to sort out. But the growing groundswell for some entity — the NCAA, Big Ten or Penn State itself — to place sanctions on the Penn State athletic program in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child rape conviction, has to make you think.

(Update: CBS News is reporting that NCAA is holding a 9 a.m. (ET) news conference Monday to announce "unprecedented" penalties on Penn State. The NCAA later released a statement saying it will levy "corrective and punitive measures" against Penn State.)

The pitchforks are clearly out, and even though the NCAA's or Big Ten's jurisdiction on this matter is questionable, the pressure to punish Penn State somehow may soon become overwhelming. Sanctions of some kind are likely. But it's possible the public pressure to smack Penn State hard, leads to bigger punishments than originally imagined — for example, the "death penalty" for Penn State's football program, or being kicked out of the Big Ten.

The former would be a hit on the athletic department that could have trickle down ramifications for hockey, in terms of budget and recruiting, and so on. The latter, however, is an apocalyptic scenario that's somewhat unlikely, and no one wants to talk about — but it is possible.

Wait, wasn't last year's conference re-shuffling the "college hockey apocalypse"? Yeah, this would be crazier. Think "No Big Ten hockey" then do the math from there.

Seasoned NCAA observers and insiders didn't think the NCAA had much jurisdiction on this matter. Penn State didn't violate any NCAA regulations, per se, and the matter is largely one to be handled by the courts.

However, the reaction is so fierce from around the sports community — from fans, supporters, columnists, politicians, and so on — to do something to punish Penn State for its role in the matter, that it's becoming increasingly likely that something will happen.

"What I think is happening is everyone is putting enormous pressure on them to voluntarily do something drastic," said one NCAA insider.

And if you think the Big Ten isn't looking to make a mark here, think again.

It's been learned by CHN that the Big Ten is considering passing new legislation that would hand the conference more power to crack down on schools that exhibit "lack of institutional control." According to this 18-page proposal, "lack of institutional control" would be a more strict standard than the NCAA's, and commissioner Jim Delaney and a council of presidents would have wide-ranging power, including the ability to fire coaches all the way up to kicking a program out of the conference.

The Chronicle of Higher Education also got a hold of the report last week, and published a story, leading to Delany denying that he would have the power to fire coaches, and that the report was just a "draft" of ideas.

But there are key paragraphs that suggest all of this is on the table:

“Institutional control” means the operation and administration of the Member Institution’s intercollegiate athletics programs in accordance with the values of the Member Institution, its governance systems, processes and rules, and the rules of the Conference and NCAA. This term is used in the Standards and Procedures in a different sense than when it arises in connection with NCAA infractions that may indicate a “lack of institutional control.” The Standards and Procedures are intended to advance and assure institutional control in a variety of areas, many of which will not involve or have any implications for NCAA rules violations.

Essentially, the Big Ten is trying to ensure that athletic directors and presidents control their programs, and that the coaches don't wield so much power. And that the Board of Trustees don't interfere, a direct shot at Penn State.

"If the Board becomes involved in the management of the Athletics Department or decides to override the President/Chancellor in the decision making process that affects the athletics program, the Board should be aware that in doing so it could be raising serious issues of
institutional control."

And coaches, which can apply to any big football school, but must have been inspired by Penn State's events.

Despite the high profile status of many of the coaches in the Conference, each coach must be ever mindful of the principles of institutional control and the alignment of authority and responsibility as set forth in these Standards and Procedures, and must be diligent to avoid a concentration of power that could lead to the potential loss of institutional control.

According to the NCAA insider: "Some people think this is simply grand standing by Delaney and Emmert to hope that PSU makes its own decision that pacifies the critics. Other think this is setting up for major penalties."

Again, signs are not pointing to Penn State actually being kicked out of the Big Ten. But at this point, there's an anything goes mentality. So, just for the sake of exercise, imagine if this happens:

The creation of Penn State's hockey program is what led to the creation of the Big Ten Hockey Conference, which touched off a series of changes that ultimately led to a second new conference, the dissolution of the CCHA, and chaos elsewhere.

Imagine if the Big Ten Hockey Conference were suddenly unable to exist? Try putting that horse back in the barn.

Penn State, as an institution, deserves a lot of shame for what happened. Whether its athletic programs deserve to be sanctioned or crippled is another story. It can be debated all day.

But no matter what, even if the sanctions only directly affect football, the loss of budget and prestige, and the effect that will have on recruiting, will have long-lasting effects. It's certainly not something that was in Guy Gadowsky's game plan.

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