Coming Events: A closer look at the Solo in Enemy Territory Project

Earlier this week, I got a text from my buddy that said the following:

“Driving to Champaign this Saturday for PSU at Illinois. Alone. Guest blog post for Keystone Sports Spot?”

No one had ever asked to do this for me before so I jumped on the opportunity. After all, the more writers the better and I’d never say to an old college journalist friend. After I told him it should be a cool take, he replied:

“Especially since I’m the loser driving an hour and 45 minutes to see a game alone. Haha.”

To which I replied:

“I’m going to two Mets/Pirates games alone this week.”

My buddy didn’t hesitate to say, “Hahaha. You win!”

That’s when we came up with an editorial idea.

So what’s the point in my telling you about our little mobile exchange? Well first, if you didn’t realize it already, I’ll be having my close friend Pat on the Keystone Sports Spot to guest blog about the Penn State vs. Illinois football game this Saturday. Like myself, Pat graduated from Penn State in 2010 and he was also a journalism major.

Second, we’ll be putting together a 2-part series documenting our recent sports experiences from some pretty unique angles. Pat is venturing from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind. to Champaign, Ill., alone. He, of course, will be going as a Penn State fan.

Penn State had a rough season before it even started. Up to this point, Penn State has been ordered to pay $60 million in sanctions, had a four-year football postseason ban enacted, and all of its wins before this season dating back to 1998 have been vacated. What’s more, Penn State cannot win the Big Ten Championship and has lost 17 scholarship players since March because of personal reasons, NCAA sanctions or dismissals. Essentially, Penn State isn’t playing for anything right now. What could make their next matchup fairly less relevant?  They’re playing against a 2-2 Fighting Illini team that lost at home last week to Louisiana Tech, 52-24. Illinois will be lucky to have a winning season, let alone contend for a Big Ten Championship or a decent bowl game.

Not the greatest matchup.

Similarly, I will be attending two Pirates vs. Mets game at Citi Field this week, also by myself. This situation threatens to be more agonizing than the Penn State game. It’s September and neither the Mets nor the Pirates are even close to making the playoffs.

Before the Pirates series started, the Mets had a record of 69-83. They were the fourth-worst team in the National League and were 23 games back of the division lead. Fan apathy is at a season high.

The Pirates were faring only slightly better. Before they met the Mets, the Buccos had a record of 75-77 and were 16.5 games back of the division leading Reds. More noticeable, however, was the Pirates’ epic collapse this season the second year in a row. Only a few months ago, the Pirates were leading the NL Central and were 16 games over .500. Not only did it appear that they would finish with their first winning season in 19 years (yes, with a 1 and a 9), they appeared to be a possible playoff team. At the beginning of this season, a second wild-card spot was added to both leagues, further enhancing the Pirates shot at the post season. Their odds increased by 12 percent, in fact. But somehow, the Pirates blew it and are on the verge of completing the most epic collapse in the history of baseball.

Essentially, we will be documenting the irrelevance of four teams – two early in their season and two late in theirs – and chronicling our experiences of going solo into enemy territory. If you have no idea what to expect, don’t worry. Neither do we.


– Pete Dombrosky

Editor-in-chief, Keystone Sports Spot

Death Penalty May Have Hurt Penn State Less

When the Joe Paterno statue was taken down outside Beaver Stadium on Penn State’s campus Sunday, a small portion of the recent scandal’s visibility was also removed. No longer would people be able to gaze upon a symbol whose new meaning is deception and human indecency.

But sanctions handed out to Penn State this morning ensured that the football program will continue to serve as a public reminder of those horrible acts conducted by Jerry Sandusky and the subsequent cover up by Penn State officials.

NCAA President Mark Emmert announced that Penn State will be penalized with a $60 million fine, a four-year football postseason ban and vacation of all wins since 1998. The school also must reduce its number of scholarships from 25 to 15 per year for four years.

It was a harsh penalty, but it wasn’t the death penalty. That would have meant football at Penn State would have been suspended completely for up to four years.

During the announcement this morning, Emmert said that the death penalty would have hurt too many innocent people. “Suspension of the football program would bring with it significant unintended harm to many who had nothing to do with this case. The sanctions we have crafted are more focused and impactful than that blanket penalty.”

Many believe that Penn State got lucky in not receiving the death penalty. But I’m not so sure. These sanctions may actually be more impactful than the death penalty when it comes to the football program and public perception of the university. Penn State must now endure the “living-death penalty.”

With these actions, the NCAA is doing more than just keeping the football program from playing in the postseason and limiting recruiting and finances. These sanctions will keep the football program in full view of public scrutiny as it carries out its sentence. It is a public shaming stemming from the infamy that Penn State officials brought on themselves. The Nittany Lion will be shut into the stockade and the world will decide whether or not to let the tomatoes fly.

If the football program was completely shut down for a few years, the talk of Penn State football in any media capacity would die off quickly. There would be no football to speak of. Beaver stadium would be empty every Saturday and no one would feel the usual buzz in the air of a fall day in Happy Valley. Maybe this scenario of talking about nothing would work in a plot line of Seinfeld, but not for the national media. It would be an unsettling quietness, but it would be quiet nonetheless.

Then in a few years, Penn State would return to playing football and recruiting players like it always has. It would be a rebirth of football in State College, rising from the ashes and establishing a new identity forged in the absence of football. Their difficult sentence would be over and a new page would turn, helping people to forget about the previous chapters written before it.

The death penalty would have meant a fresh start eventually.

Instead, Penn State will begin a four-year span of meaningless football and public scrutiny. There will be no break from media analysis for the football program. There will be no fresh starts. There will be no bowl games, no Big Ten Championships and no hope to make the NCAA playoff when it begins in 2014. But there will be plenty of time each Saturday for broadcasters to talk about the events leading to the current situation. Viewers at home and at Penn State games will witness the walking-dead Nittany Lions carry out their penalty every week of the season. Talk may die down as time goes on, but the scandal will always be the 800-pound gorilla in Beaver Stadium.

Public perception of Penn State football won’t be helped by a mediocre team, either. With the loss of scholarships and inability to play for Big Ten Championships, National Championships and bowl games, the talent wells for Happy Valley are bound to hit drought conditions. Elite players won’t want to come to Penn State to play for nothing. These young men will play for Penn State’s competition and make the Nittany Lions’ road to success on the field that much harder.

The football team will be bled to death slowly for the next four years and beyond as fewer and fewer top recruits commit. A team of walk-ons just won’t win many games. In the coming years, Penn State will set a different precedent besides the sanctions imposed against them: Never in college football history will such a pedestrian team get so much media attention.

But public perception and sanctions aside, I believe Penn State will recover from this someday. The next decade will be an uphill crawl for everyone who represents the university – the football team, students, alumni and fans (myself included). Success with honor may not have meant anything to Jerry Sandusky, Joe Paterno and other Penn State brass, but it still means something to the rest of us and it’s our duty not to forget what happened while still moving on to set a new standard of excellence.

Football at Penn State will be relevant some day in the future, but it will be the most publicly scrutinized return to relevance in the history of college football.

Will Centre County Locals Doom Sandusky?

Today, the final jurors were picked for the Jerry Sandusky sexual misconduct trial. The 12 jurors and four alternates were decided today and yesterday for the trial that’s set to begin on Monday, June 11.

More than 600 jury duty summonses were sent out to residents in Centre County, where Penn State University is located. The judge said before jury selection that people with Penn State connections would not automatically disqualify potential jurors, just as they could pledge to be impartial. So it came as no surprise that many of the jurors have Penn State ties.

According to reports from various media outlets, at least four of the first nine jurors selected had some kind of direct Penn State connection and all four of the jurors selected today said they had ties to the school. One is a full professor at Penn State. Another is an administrative assistant and a dance teacher at the continuing education program at the school.

The jury also includes a Penn State senior, a man with bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the school and a woman who has been a football season ticket holder since the 1970s. One of the alternate jurors selected is a woman in her 30s who graduated from Penn State in 2007 with a degree in human development. There are also a handful of people who claim to have no ties to Penn State or Sandusky.

For a detailed breakdown of all the jurors, here’s a great place.

My initial gut reaction told me that I don’t trust Centre County residents to have the ability to be completely impartial in this case. I believed that anyone who lives or works in Centre County probably has a strong, negative opinion regarding Jerry Sandusky.  I thought a jury made up of locals would help the prosecution in the end. It even seemed reasonable to think that any one of these jurors could have lied about being impartial for the chance to lock up Sandusky for life.

After all, Penn State is the life-blood and driving force behind the population in Centre County. Anything that negatively affects Penn State negatively affects Centre County. Penn State has a bigger alumni association than any other school and many of them reside in that region. And even if you live there and don’t have a direct connection with the university, odds are good you are a fan of the football program and its late coach Joe Paterno.

Paterno, one of the most prominent and respected people in the history of Penn State, was fired because of the Sandusky allegations. He died of cancer shortly after and some believe it was because he lost the will to fight his disease with football no longer in his life. If you’re old enough to be a juror for this trial, you’re old enough to know how much Joe Paterno meant to the university and the surrounding area. Even if you agreed with Paterno’s firing, it’s difficult to ignore that Sandusky was the root of it.


Just because Centre County has such a huge contingent of Penn State and Joe Paterno fans doesn’t mean people there can’t be impartial. The defense wanted to keep the jury limited to locals for a reason. It wanted Centre County residents because they would have a better understanding of the case and because Centre County has a greater population of well-educated individuals than other rural, central Pennsylvania regions. The defense decided it would benefit Sandusky more to have more educated people with Penn State pride than less educated ones without it.

That strategy may pay off for Sandusky.

Even if there are people on the jury who lied about their impartiality, could it be possible that all of them did? Maybe, but it’s unlikely.

The fact is, it takes only one person to hang a jury. If Sandusky’s defense can convince just one person on that panel that he’s innocent, he might have a chance. But can Sandusky’s defense convince every juror he’s innocent on all 52 counts?

I highly doubt it, even if there is a lack of physical evidence.

The odds are stacked against Sandusky that he’ll get off scot-free. But if by some unlikely turn of events he comes out of this trial as a free man, move over Lou Gehrig. Sandusky will be latest ‘luckiest man of the face of the earth.’

The Bill O’Brien Hire: Keeping Things In Perspective

Last night I was half asleep in bed, when breaking news about Penn State’s head football coach search flashed across my television screen. I was instantly awake and I honestly got goose bumps. But only partly because I was excited to hear who it was. Mostly, it was because I believed it was the first step back to normalcy for the university. Now before you tell me that a new coach in Happy Valley is not at all normal – considering this hasn’t happened in about half a century – remember what has been normal lately in the Penn State community: one of, if not the biggest scandal to ever occur in major collegiate sports. As Penn State fans, our normal became people cracking jokes when we wore PSU clothing. Normal was seeing the bottom line on ESPN scroll news about a new victim speaking up about alleged abuse from Sandusky, nearly every day. Normal was also our fairly average starting quarterback knocking himself unconscious during a fight and suffering a seizure a few weeks before the Ticket City Bowl. Then normal became our terrible back-up quarterback help the rest of the team sink into bowl mediocrity at a half-empty stadium in Texas on January 2. Suddenly the latest “normal” for Penn State doesn’t seem so bad to me. Now we have the prospect of having a winning future. And because it’s awhile until the next Penn State regular season football game, we won’t know if O’Brien will be successful for some time. But we can at least have hope. That’s pretty good considering how hopeless it has seemed for Penn State in the recent past.

I’m also aware that some folks refuse to have hope for Bill O’Brien. His hiring is getting blasted by the media and Penn State alumni alike ever since the news dropped. Many former Nittany Lion football players, such as LaVar Arrington, Matt Millen and Todd Blackledge have all questioned the decision. And it is all because O’Brien is not a “Penn State guy.” It’s as if this “outsider” can’t do the job because he’s not “one of us.” Give me a break, that sounds like some sort of cult. I couldn’t care less if Bill O’Brien isn’t a Penn State guy. Is that really such a big deal? There have been plenty of other college football coaches who have found success at schools that they had no previous ties to. Pete Carrol wasn’t a USC guy, Chip Kelly wasn’t an Oregon guy, Les Miles wasn’t an LSU guy and Nick Saban wasn’t an Alabama guy. I’m not saying O’Brien will live up to any of these standards, but it just shows that success in college football can come from the outside.

Former Lion quarterback Kerry Collins came out and stood up for O’Brien today. He called all alumni football players to support the new guy, even if they didn’t want him in the first place. Collins urged former players to spend less time criticizing O’Brien for not being a Penn State guy and spend more time showing him what makes Penn Staters great and treat him with respect and show him support. Collins called for a united front to stand by our leader whoever it is, because Penn State needs leadership now more than ever. At this point, I think we should all follow Collins’ lead. The football team doesn’t need a Penn State guy, it needs a winner. And last time I checked, O’Brien has a much better chance of winning football games at Penn State now than he does going back in time and having some kind of affiliation with Penn State.

The naysayers will drive home the point that he has no head coaching experience. And that’s a valid point. A head coaching job isn’t as much about the Xs and Os as it is managing people, kids in fact. There’s a big difference between working with the best and richest athletes in America and trying to improve a 19-year-old that is rough around the edges in both football and academics. True, there are many different facets to the college job compared to the pro job. But remember, it all comes down the same thing: football. O’Brien is a highly talented football mind. He has potential and it’s not like he was a former bowling coach. He was a football guy. He’s had experience with the New England Patriots, Duke, Maryland, Brown and Georgia Tech. He’s been a running backs coach, a tight ends coach, an inside linebackers coach, a quarterbacks coach, a wide receivers coach and an offensive coordinator. The total record of the teams O’Brien was coaching for is 151-92. He was a part of 10 winning seasons and only two losing ones. All of that has to count for something right? I know it might not mean much considering coordinators and position coaches don’t get credited with wins, but I’d rather be optimistic, given the fact that a big name didn’t accept the job and Bill O’Brien did. We don’t have a choice right now, so why not try and think positively?

I’m not going to promise that O’Brien will carry on the winning tradition at Penn State. Right now, there’s no way to tell. Let’s just wait and see before we decide whether Bill O’Brien can be a Penn State guy or not because right now, he is Penn State’s guy, whether we like it or not.

We’ll Miss You Joe…

As journalist, I was trained in college to work with facts and leave my own personal feelings out when writing about sports, aside from writing columns of course. There isn’t room for opinion when writing news stories and we are taught to gather information and present it with as little personal bias as possible. I suppose right now I’m fortunate that I don’t cover Penn State football for a newspaper, because I now realize that it’s difficult for me to draw a line between my head and my heart – what I know Joe should have done and my overall respect and admiration for him.

A few days ago, I was 99 percent sure that Paterno would be fired or would resign in the very near future. I understood all the facts that had been presented in this case and I felt like I had come to terms with the future of Joe Pa. I read the grand jury report, constantly checked for updates regarding the case and delved into the situation with a previous blog analysis. I knew that Joe messed up. I knew that he was as good as gone. But still, I was surprisingly unprepared to hear about his firing. It was like knowing a tidal wave was coming days before it reached land and still being surprised when I saw water rushing up the streets.

To me and many other Penn State alumni and supporters, Joe Paterno was like the sky above us and the air we breathed. No matter what happened, he was always there. By the time I was born, Joe had already been the head coach at Penn State for 21 years.  He had already won two national championships and a Big Ten title, with two more Big Ten titles coming in 2005 and 2008. In my life time, Joe Paterno coached in 303 games, amassing 210 wins. I certainly don’t remember all of them, but I remember some of the important ones. I was at the 2005 Orange Bowl when Joe earned his 21st bowl win, topping his longtime rival Bobby Bowden. I was in the crowd at Beaver stadium when Joe’s Nittany Lions rallied from an 18-point deficit to beat Ohio State, earning him his 324th win and passing Bear Bryant for the record of most wins for a coach in major college football history. I remember standing amongst 100,000-plus people on November 6, 2010 in State College when Paterno recorded his 400th career victory with a 35–21 victory over Northwestern. Facing a 21–0 deficit, the Lions scored 35 unanswered points, tying Paterno’s largest comeback victory as a coach. I was also present when Paterno earned win 400, a number that had never been reached in major college football history.But more importantly, I remember how I felt every Saturday in State College watching Joe lead his team out of the tunnel. I got chills each and every time. Going to Penn State games was, is and always will be one of my favorite activities in my life. Unfortunately, it may never feel the same without ol’ Joe.

Joe also impacted me off the football field. I studied every week at the Paterno library, to which Joe had donated millions of dollars to improve. The fact that it is called the “Paterno library” tells a lot about the man. Penn State is the only university in the country to have a football stadium named after a school president and a library named after the football coach. Paterno showed everyone how much he valued the educational part of college, ahead of what happened on his football field. And despite his success (Joe earned more than 10 different awards in major college football, amassed 409 wins and 24 bowl wins, and coached more than 350 players who went on to play in the NFL) he couldn’t have been more humble. He would rarely take credit for wins, rather giving the esteem to his players and fellow coaches. He never argued over his contracts, despite making tremendously less than most other major college football coaches. And when his salary became public knowledge in 2006, Paterno said that “I got all the money I need,” even though he probably could have been making a lot more.

Back when I was in undergrad at Penn State, I used to walk by his house on occasion. Before someone told me it was his house, I would have NEVER guessed that the most significant icon in college football lived there. It’s small and modest at the end of a one-way street in a quiet neighborhood just off campus. Joe didn’t want anything more than that. He was content living in the quaint house with his wife Sue, and though will have some rough days ahead, I imagine he’ll be happy to keep on living in that house in a town that has always loved him.

Although we’ll never see Paterno on the sidelines at Beaver stadium again, his bronze statue will remain outside of it with the inscription “Joseph Vincent Paterno: Educator, coach and humanitarian.” What he has done for me, Penn State and college athletics will go on unmatched in history. And when I hear “Penn State,” I’ll always think of black Nike shoes, rolled up khaki pants and coke bottle glasses.

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