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Joe Paterno's 1992 Letter To College Presidents Is Full of Hypocrisy


In light of the recent, disgusting events that have come out regarding Jerry Sandusky's alleged sexual child abuse while working as an assistant under Joe Paterno's at Penn State, we feel that some of our archival content regarding Joe Paterno is worth revisiting now.

This is an open letter he wrote to the college presidents commission in 1992 regarding the importance of integrity and and the role that coaches play in helping provide for the welfare of young people.

An Open Letter To College Presidents - 1992

By Joe Paterno, Head Coach, Penn State University

Today more than ever, college presidents are taking responsibility for the preservation of intercollegiate athletics, ensuring the integrity of their programs, at the same time, maintaining the vitality of all sports.

I don't think any committed coach can take issue with the involvement of the presidents in the administration of intercollegiate athletics. At Penn State, we have had such institutional control, and the participation of the presidents on the national level is indeed welcome.

Having said that, I don't nexessarily subscribe to all the changes the President's Commission has instituted through the NCAA.

Many recollect that our coaches and other athletic staff have not done a good job informing our presidents on what constitutes constructive changes. As a result, I am afraid we have created new rules and restrictions which might diminish the coaches' ability to run athletic programs that are a source of personal growth and provide meaningful competition for our student-athletics. What we must work to establish are activities which add zest to a quality education and enrich life in the exciting mainstream of a vibrant college experience.

Eliminating an assistant coach and replacing graduate assistants with reduced-earning personnel as a cost-cutting measure would have made it more difficult for our coaching staffs to successfully assume the increasing responsibility for the welfare of our people, from guiding their lifestyles to being accountable for their graduation.

The release of institutional graduation rates increases the already significant pressure on football coaches who are held accountable for the academic proficiency of their players, a responsbility no othe runiversity administator or faculty member, with the exception of the president, shoulders in such a public manner. The elimination of graduate assistants would have scrapped the only intern program available to young people who desire to further their education and prepare themselves to be effective coaches.

As an aside, I hope that in the drive to improve graduation rates we will not overlook the necessity of providing a meaningful education or assume that the student does not have the prime responsibility to graduate.

We must continue to challenge our athletes in the classroom, not design or condone programs that will push them through the university for the purpose of improving the published rates.

In seeking to get more institutional control of the expenses and excesses of recruiting, we must be careful not to institute rules so restrictive, so complex and so cumbersome that we end up creating added costs and spending excessive time seeking interpreations. The best-intentioned coaching staff has trouble toeing the NCAA line when it has to deal with the abrupt changes of recruiting legislation.

For the past several years our rules have been effective and, contrary to the public perception, most of our people do not deliberately break them (even though we sometimes have to adhere to some which are neither fair nor practical).

The vast majority of football coaches want to do an honest job recruiting. Of course, as in all human endeavors, there are exceptions, bu, by and large, the climate is competitive rather than confrontational.

But before we change regulations, we need the input of coaches who have to deal with the rules on a daily basis. Our coaches, as would be the case with any faculty member, need to feel that they are contributing to the dialogue which leads to simple, enforceable rules.

Such participation adds to their responsibility to ensure that they and their colleagues abide by the rule changes.

I am encouraged that at the most recent NCAA Convention (January 1992) we were able to restore the assistant coaching position, the graduate assistants and pass some other refinement legislation. This, I think, was an indication of an improving climate of communication between presidents, athletic directors and coaches. I think presidential involvement is essential and will be a positive influence. 

The necessity exists, however, for continuing informed input from coaches. This does not in any way imply that we should expect to have it only our way. Once we receive a fair hearing, we should support efforts to refine the reforms the Presidents Commission has originated and, as the Commission moves ahead, to discuss and supports additional improvements.

College football is a wonderful game, but I believe we have to be careful not to make changes without thoroughly evalutating their impact from every angle, including their effect on our other intercollegiate sports, both men's and women's.

If we can create this atmosphere of collegiality, we can use all of our resources to make college football and intercollegiate athletics what they shuld be: a meaningful educational experience for our maturing young people, a source of pride for our universities and enjoyment for the millions of people who love college sports.