In the here and now world of college football, text messaging has become the best way to sell recruits, not sweet-talking their mothers.
College football has become all about perception and not about the product on the field. It's not if you win, but how you win; a team that wins 56-49 will be seen as better than the team that won 13-6, even though both teams won by the same seven points.
Teams with strong relationships with the media (and especially ESPN) will be ranked higher than teams that don't, plain and simple. Both Oklahoma and Florida lost before the BCS poll came out, but because of a high preseason poll were able to rebound quickly.
This perception is also important to league standings, USC needs teams like Cal, Oregon, UCLA, and Arizona State so it can remain on top of the standings each year. Ohio State fans loved watching Michigan be pathetic this season, but deep down they know they need to beat the Wolverines to be considered elite by AP and BCS pollsters.
The point is that the media plays an important role in the success of a team, and teams that know this will do well. However, Penn State is not one of those teams, and this needs to change.
Coaches who talk to the media will also help their players when it comes to postseason awards and the draft status. But Coach Joe Paterno doesn't get this. Every meeting with the media is short, and Joe says what he wants and answers only questions that he wants.
As such, the perception of Penn State is the lowest in the Big Ten when it comes to the media...and maybe even the country. At the Rose Bowl this year, Paterno refused to talk to the media before the game, even though he was contractually obligated to do with ABC.
As a result, Penn State was thrashed by the media and the game was called a blowout even though the Nittany Lions lost by 14. USC became the media darlings, Penn State the bad guys, and this slanted how the game was presented and spoken of afterward.
The latest example of this issue was the fight at Penn State last summer. This happens all the time on any college campus and usually all involved get a slap on the wrist. A week or two after the incident, though, ESPN's "Outside the Lines" ran a story on how corrupt the University of Penn State was, how all they were worried about was winning football games, and that Paterno had lost touch with his players.
The whole story was a witch hunt after Paterno...who has, coincidentally, refused interviews with ESPN for several years.
So now, last month, Florida State—which is know for having off-the-field issues—allowed players from both men and women's sports to cheat academically. ESPN ran the story for one day and defended Bobby Bowden and Florida State.
Why the harsh treatment on Penn State and not Florida State? It's quite simple. Bowden talks to ESPN.
He granted full access for his team to be featured on the ESPN program "The Season" a few years back, and so not reporting the cheating incident was ESPN paying Bowden back for access to his program. Florida State was granted a free pass, whereas Paterno sat by as his university was falsely dragged through the mud.
It's unfair that this kind of bias occurs, but it obviously does. It's almost as if ESPN is the crybaby in the sandbox...give us the toy (interview), they say, or we'll be mean to you and tell Mommy.
So Penn State has to play the game, and here's how. First, Paterno needs to name his successor, plain and simple. This is a question the media will ask from here on out at every press conference till he retires. If Joe wants to do it on his own terms, that's fine, but he needs to do it.
Next, as much as it pains him, Paterno needs to do a sit-down interview with ESPN to repair the school's relationship with the most powerful name in all of sports. Granting more media access to practice and the players would be a good idea as well.
Finally, Paterno should be a spokesman for a national or state charity and/or do some good in the community. If he does, it should be publicized more, not because Paterno wants to brag but because this will help repair Penn State's image that the media is so quick to trash.
These are simple ideas that will boost the university's image, help bring in recruits and raise money for the school.