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Pac-12 Confidential

Bud Withers offers an inside look at the Pac-12 Conference and the national college scene.

November 17, 2011 at 4:13 PM

Should Penn State accept an invite to a bowl game?

That’s going to be a hot topic the next couple of weeks as the Nittany Lions program, plagued by the child-sexual-abuse scandal, soldiers on. With eight victories, Penn State is easily bowl-eligible.

According to an Associated Press story, the Rose Bowl would welcome Penn State if it earns the bid, which is a dicey prospect at best. Penn State has the inside track to the game, but must get past games at Ohio State and Wisconsin. Then it would have to win the first Big Ten title game.

Penn State president Rod Erickson wasn’t definitive, saying, “We’ll wait and see at the appropriate time.” Tom Bradley, the interim coach, said, “Yes, I want to make it. The players and the guys on this team didn’t have anything to do with this that’s surrounding them.”

A Capital One bowl exec the AP quoted, Steve Hogan, says the bowl (which has a Big Ten tie-in) would make its selection on the basis of on-field performance.

Meanwhile, a Big Ten official says the conference has taken no position on whether the Nittany Lions should accept a bid.

The issue, of course, is a two-sided one: Whether a given bowl would want to have the Nittanys, and whether it’s in the school’s best interest to go.

Think of all the ramifications for the bowl that has them: If you’re a sponsor, do you want your product associated with the Penn State brand — even if the current players had nothing to do with this? Or, if you’re that host city: Same question.

In routine press conferences that lead up to the bowl, there would be, inevitably, a focus on the scandal. The debate even stretches to the opponent team, which would no doubt be drawn into the subject.

It can be argued that a bowl’s TV ratings would be bumped up, and maybe that’s a plus. But I’m guessing that Penn State sags into the Big Ten’s third or fourth bowl slot, so whether that’s a big factor, I don’t know.

Then there’s Penn State’s side. The players are among the victims in this — well down the list, it’s true — and to decline a bowl invitation would be to penalize them further. (If nothing else, there are bowl gifts up to a worth of $500 that they would forfeit.)

My take: I think Penn State would want to get the season over as soon as possible. This has to have been a traumatic period for players, and to extend it only keeps it in the news.

You can make the case that the Nittany Lions ought to suspend the football program for a year, although I’m not advocating that. There are some practical considerations, though: The school doesn’t have a permanent athletic director, who will presumably hire the new football coach, and it usually takes awhile to get an AD in place. Penn State’s woes may already hurt the quality of candidate it can attract, but not having an AD figures to further mitigate that.

A final word: Last week, I wrote here about whether the NCAA “death penalty” was appropriate for Penn State, and concluded it wasn’t. Before you can even entertain a discussion about that, you can’t get by a fundamental part of the death penalty, clearly expressed in the NCAA manual: It’s only for offenders who commit major NCAA violations of the manual (and those don’t include child-sexual-abuse scandals) a second time within a five-year period. Penn State has no such major violations already on the books.

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