Penn State Has More P.R. Problems
After the Sandusky scandal laid waste to the Penn State football program, you heard many of the right things from the school about how they would move forward and put systems in place to avoid making a similar mistake in the future. Now the Tennessean reports that former Vanderbilt head coach and current PSU coach James Franklin made contact with a victim of an alleged rape perpetrated by four of his players while at Vandy. This comes after implications were made that Franklin urged one of the accused players of destroying evidence. Those implications, which Franklin has emphatically denied, came to light last September - before he was hired by Penn State.
For a school looking to put distance between itself and a sex scandal, this is hardly welcome news for Penn State. Not that it would be anyway. The alarming thing is that PSU administrators should have known better. While Franklin may indeed be innocent of the charge by an anonymous source that he counseled accused players to destroy evidence, the charge should have been enough of a red flag for Penn State to steer clear of hiring him. While rape is alarmingly common on college campuses, it doesn't mean that head coaching candidates can't be found without the stains of these crimes on their resumes. Instead, it sounds like once again that football interests trumped moral concerns. That's bad if it happens anywhere, but at PSU after what happen it seems unforgivable and unbelievable.
It puts the current Penn State administration in a terrible position as well. Can you fire Franklin just because he contacted the victim? At least on the surface, it sounds like Franklin told her his motivation was that he cared about her since she'd assisted with recruiting. Then there's this from the Tennessean piece:
It went on to say that at some point, "Coach Franklin called her in for a private meeting and told her he wanted her to get fifteen pretty girls together and form a team to assist with the recruiting even though he knew it was against the rules. He added that all the other colleges did it."
The author isn't clear enough whether "at some point" can be narrowed down to before or after the victim was allegedly attacked. In any case, it doesn't reflect well on Franklin. At a minimum, he's seeking to deliberately break NCAA rules. Worse, he's using the attractiveness of young women to lure recruits to his campus. Even worse would be if this "private meeting" came after the alleged attack where it seems so insensitive it borders on cruel. It even smells of manipulation. Is the idea that if she becomes affiliated with the program, she'll seek to protect it by being less than aggressive about making charges against the alleged attackers and others in the program?
On the other hand, this isn't a smoking gun situation for Penn State where immediate termination seems like an automatic outcome. Other than this anonymous source, there may not be anyone around that will directly finger Franklin for encouraging the destruction of evidence. Even if there were, Penn State should have been aware it was possible prior to hiring Franklin and thus shouldn't make that the sole basis for termination. As for the contact with the victim, maybe Franklin genuinely sought to offer her comfort, and maybe that would even be her position on the matter. As for the meeting, since it was private it seems sort of he said-she said. Also, if it occurred prior to the alleged attack, it seems far less egregious even if it is a bit sleazy. Can you fire Franklin for being a little sleazy at Vanderbilt? Is a deliberate attempt to break an NCAA rule at another program grounds enough for termination? If so, what then?
Bill O'Brien already put the team in a bad spot by leaving after only two years. If Franklin were to be forced out now, who can you get to take his place? Most top candidates have a job for the 2014 season. The Nittany Lions are still coping with sanctions that limit their roster. Driving Franklin out now might be the kind of blow to the program from which it might not ever truly recover. Especially with Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State on the schedule every year going forward and close neighbors Rutgers and Maryland seeking any opportunity to make progress with their programs.
This seems like about the last thing Penn State needs right now. And yet, looking back at the allegations in September, you can't say this couldn't have been foreseen. Penn State's leadership has made its bed, now they'll have to lie in it. They'll either look sleazy and duplicitous or else risk setting there program years behind.