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Paterno's rule at Penn State far-reaching – USATODAY.com
Joe Paterno's rule was far-reaching, former Penn State official says
By Kelly Whiteside, USA TODAY
At Penn State, Joe Paterno was larger than life, even cast in bronze. His power and influence was so great, no one dared to confront, and certainly not defy, the legend, according to a former university official.
During her four years as the vice president for student affairs, Vicky Triponey challenged that power and lost. Triponey held direct oversight of the Office of Judicial Affairs, the university's disciplinary arm. When football players ran afoul of school policy, Triponey said Paterno interfered with the discipline process.
After one such incident, Triponey said, then-president Graham Spanier told her, "Vicky, you're one of the handful of people who have seen the darker side of Joe Paterno."
MORE: Complete coverage of the Penn State scandal
In another instance, Triponey said, Spanier told her, "You can't expect to change the culture" and that in "40 years he never saw anybody stand up to Joe Paterno." Spanier did not respond to an interview request this week. Multiple calls to Paterno's publicist were not returned; neither was an e-mail request to his on-campus PR person.
Triponey's account of the pressure she faced sheds light on the influence the football program had on the university. This culture has now come under scrutiny in the wake of the worst scandal in college sports history.
Following the arrest of former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, who was charged with sexually abusing eight boys over a period of 15 years, both Spanier and Paterno were forced out. According to a grand jury report, Paterno and three other university officials failed to notify police after a graduate assistant coach witnessed Sandusky sexually assaulting a 10-year-old boy in the school's football facility in 2002. Sandusky has maintained his innocence.
Paterno is not a target of the investigation.
Athletics director Tim Curley and senior vice president Gary Schultz were accused of failing to report the alleged abuse to police and perjuring themselves before a grand jury. Their lawyers have claimed they are innocent.
Bill Asbury, who worked almost three decades at the university and preceded Triponey as vice president of student affairs, understands Happy Valley's culture better than most. He played football in college and for the NFL and is a member of the reform-minded Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics.
"When we say, 'We are Penn State,' it's more than just 'We are Penn State and you're not.' It's also: 'We are Penn State and we are one. We are members on the same team, therefore we will do whatever it takes to protect the team, the culture around the team and university,' " Asbury said. However, he likely could never have imagined that protecting the program would cross the line to criminal behavior, as the allegations of a coverup suggest.
On Monday, when the school announced that former FBI director Louis Freeh would lead Penn State's internal investigation, Ken Frazier, the chairman of the special committee, said the group pledged "to get to the bottom of what happened — who knew what, when."
He also acknowledged the question that has troubled many: Why did Penn State's leaders fail to act? "People are asking completely valid questions about why actions were not taken that might have saved any of the victims from harm," said Frazier, the chief executive officer and president of Merck.
Did a football coach who spent 61 years at the school have too much power? Did protecting the program's reputation come at the expense of everything else? Was the school, run by leaders who have spent most of their professional lives in Happy Valley, crippled by its own insularity?
William Britt, a police sergeant in Philadelphia's homicide division, said he's not surprised by the alleged coverup. "I see how this happens (at Penn State). We lived it," Britt said.
In April 2007, as many as two dozen football players forced their way into a party at an off-campus apartment and assaulted several students at the party, including Britt's son, Jack, who was severely beaten. Six players faced criminal charges as a result of the brawl. In the end, many of the charges against the players were dismissed, and two players pleaded guilty to misdemeanor offenses.
In the middle of the school's internal investigation, Triponey said Spanier ordered her to meet with Paterno. Triponey said she had repeatedly refused to discuss cases with Paterno because she didn't want to compromise her impartiality. "The coach was not happy with that," Triponey said in a telephone interview with USA TODAY. "Many times he tried to insist upon a meeting with me, asked others to have meetings with me. Sent his wife (Sue) one time. In the middle of cases. This became a bone of contention."
"The coach was literally telling his players that they couldn't cooperate with judicial affairs or they would get kicked off the team. So we were going nowhere in getting to the bottom of things," Triponey said. "I said to the coach, 'This would be so much easier if you would tell your players just to tell the truth.' He was livid, and the message to me was, 'I can't do that. They have to play for me and I can't ask them to rat on each other.' The president also chimed in and said, 'Vicky, the coach is right. We can't expect the players to tell the truth.' So that's the environment that was underlying this whole debate about who's in charge."
Football won. "The sanctions that were issued which were nowhere near being in line what the code required for the severity of the offenses," Triponey said.
As a result of the school's inquiry, four key players were expelled temporarily for the summer semester but were allowed to return to campus early for the start of fall practice. Fifteen players were found to have committed violations. Paterno disciplined the entire team by making them clean up a section of Beaver Stadium on Sunday mornings after a few home games.
Britt said the school's handling of the case showed who was in charge. "The highest official in State College, Pa., is Joe Paterno. I don't care what anybody else's title is, he ran the show up there. And he knew about everything. There's no doubt in anybody's mind that it all comes back to JoePa," Britt said. "I got this from the (police) officers I dealt with. Basically they said it's a nightmare, any case that involves the football team."
Tom King, the police chief in State College the past two decades, said football players have been treated like any other students. "I never have experienced any situation involving Penn State athletes where the university has in any way attempted to intervene with enforcement of the law or to mitigate an arrest," King said.
In a 2008 segment on ESPN's Outside the Lines examining an alarming number of criminal charges involving football players, Paterno denied threatening the players involved in the April 2007 brawl. He also said, "I have never ever asked (judicial affairs) to change a decision in any way."
Asbury, Triponey's predecessor, said he can't recall anytime a coach asked him to mitigate a penalty on a player. Triponey said she was pressured by Spanier and athletics director Tim Curley to lessen the sanctions on football players. After meeting with Paterno and other officials in August 2005 to discuss Paterno's concerns, Triponey summarized Paterno's attitude toward student discipline in an e-mail to Curley and others.
Triponey kept records of all such correspondence. She wrote that Paterno wanted discipline to be left to the coach; that he believed the school's code of conduct should not apply to any events that take place off campus and that those incidents should be handled by the police and not affect a student's status; that the program should be closer to the bottom of the Big Ten in addressing discipline matters; and that the school should not inform the public when football players are found responsible for committing serious acts of violence.
Curley's response to her, via e-mail: "I think your summary is accurate." Curley, through a spokesperson, declined an interview request.
Triponey said she also received enormous pressure in a 2005 case involving standout linebacker Dan Connor, who was accused of making harassing calls to retired assistant coach Joe Sarra. One night after a football game, Triponey said Spanier and Curley came to her house because Paterno told Spanier that he had to make a choice between his vice president of student affairs and his football coach. According to Triponey, Spanier said that if he ever had to make that decision, he would side with his vice president.
In 2007, not long after the tumultuous case over the brawl involving the football players, Spanier made his choice. Triponey was forced to resign.
"I don't know what happened between Vicky and Joe, but no president, particularly Graham Spanier wants to be put in the middle," Asbury said. "I don't know who made the fatal mistake. Somebody made it, and she is no longer here."
The same week that Triponey left Penn State, the university outlined a proposal to revamp the Office of Judicial Affairs. One change: Rather than judicial affairs, coaches, as well as club advisers, would determine whether students facing sanctions would be able to participate in extracurricular activities, such as playing football.
Football won again.
Another perspective. Don't know if it was accurate in 2007; also don't know if Paterno has lost influence since then. (PF is there, I'm not and I know he's not an apologist) But, if true, yeah Paterno was much higher up the food chain than his nominal bosses. Article rings true to me.