I have always been idealistic about college sports. I would argue on the side that college sports were generally positive for everyone involved: the players received an education (as well as preparation for a professional league), while the school could improve its undergraduate experience, advertise itself to prospective students, and reconnect with alumni. While a few bad apples certainly made headlines, I believed that some schools (certainly not all, not a majority, perhaps only a handful) were honorably succeeding at the highest level.
The past few days have irrevocably shaken that belief. When cynics would ask me to name a single major program that wasn't dirty or corrupt, Penn State had been my response every time. PSU had always been the exemplar of how a football team and an athletic department could succeed without sinking to the level of other schools. They graduated an impressive percentage of players; last year they were at 84%, 2nd among BCS state schools (behind Rutgers). The Google auto-complete for "success with honor" is "PSU". Their coach had personally donated millions of dollars to the school and helped raise hundreds of millions more for a new library. And they did all of this while ranking 9th in wins over the last quarter century.
We have since learned that this impression was as least partially a facade. No matter how the public or the prosecutors apportion blame on the individuals involved (and I irrationally cling to the belief that Paterno did all that he could), no one can argue that as a program, Penn State failed in a way almost unimaginable. A scandal of the level seen at Miami or OSU would have been extremely disheartening; these revelations shatter my previous perspective.
Perhaps I am being overly dramatic, but I don't think I will be able to follow college sports in the future with the same fervor. I can no longer justify to myself or anyone else that any uncorrupted schools or individuals participate, or even that a theoretical uncorrupted school could even compete. I'll probably continue to watch my own school (Northwestern) at least until something similar escapes from there. A few other schools also appear to have clean programs (Stanford, Boston College) though all three of those schools have the advantage of immunity from open records requests, and also stretch the definition of "success": BC is horrible this year, Northwestern can most charitably be described as inconsistent, and Stanford went 1-11 not too long ago. My desire to watch Tuesday night MAC games or to spend an entire Saturday watching random teams seems unlikely to return to its previous level.
At the beginning of this season, Spencer Hall wrote an article entitled "God's Away on Business" about how even with the fraud and hypocrisy, the genuine passion of the players gave him a defense against cynicism. My defense was that at least some schools avoided most of the fraud and hypocrisy. I have lost that.