We're one year past the horror show scandal that rocked Penn State during the home stretch of the 2011 season. That, of course, was the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse case, the one that has since resulted in Joe Paterno's firing, the ouster of several Penn State officials, and Jerry Sandusky's conviction and effective life sentence in prison.
Those sanctions are just now starting to hit Penn State and will continue to do so for years to come. So some comments made recently by Penn State president Rodney Erickson might have given some people pause when, according to the Associated Press, he said Penn State was better off now than a year ago. Here's more:
The past year has been difficult, but the university remains a diverse institution focused on academics, research and service, President Rodney Erickson said.
"Are we a better university? Yes, I think we are in terms of everything that we've accomplished and put into place," he said.
Neither the marquee football program, nor any other aspect of Penn State life, dominates overall university culture, Erickson said.
He cited recent NCAA data showing high graduation rates for football players and other Penn State teams. The rates, Erickson said, are an example of Penn State's dedication to academic and athletic success and "evidence of a culture of athletics that is one that we can and should take great pride in, and we will continue to believe in that principle — that academics and athletics can work together in a very, very positive way."
Now, considering what Penn State is facing at this point, it's hard to look at a pre-scandal snapshot of the school and say "things are better."
But Erickson is right: Penn State is a better university now.
Here's the deal: Penn State is, at this point, surviving its sanctions. Moreover, the sanctions are not purely punitive; they also involve aggressive steps toward ensuring compliance with NCAA regulations over the coming years.
A compliant school is a healthy school—and a trustworthy school.
Moreover, think about the men Penn State had around 12 months ago: Joe Paterno, Graham Spanier, Tim Curley and Gary Schulz. Those four men appear to have provided a nexus of obstruction for Sandusky; at the very least, they were profoundly deficient in their forthcomingness to authorities over the matter.
Those four men are all gone and, barring a wild swing of circumstance, never coming back. Penn State currently employs nobody who was accused of even the slightest bit of misdoings in the scandal—not even former assistant coach Mike McQueary, a witness to one of the incidents.
Ultimately, Penn State is better off now not just for today, but for the next 10 years. Knowing what we do now, we can safely assume that school will be in good shape for the foreseeable future. Knowing what we do now, that wasn't necessarily the case when the scandal first hit.
It took an aggressive, proactive response for the school to get from that Point A to this Point B, and it probably saved the long-term reputation of the school as a result.