I can’t believe it’s already Labor Day weekend. Where did the summer go? Labor Day conjures up mixed emotions with me, and I would guess, many others. On the one hand it’s a time to pause and reflect on the achievements of the American worker. These days, because of the number of people out of work, that reflection runs deeper. On the other hand there’s a feeling of foreboding, as you know summer fun is over, the kids are back in school and casual summer Friday has ended.
But between feelings of reflection and foreboding, for the sports fan in me, Labor Day weekend means the opening of the college football season. Major college football has seen its share of crises and controversy over the years, but none so intense as the debacle at Penn State. On Saturday, Sept. 1, the Nittany Lions will face Ohio in its first game since NCAA sanctions took affect in light of the Jerry Sandusky child sex scandal.
While it’s been a PR nightmare for the university’s administration, the scandal also hit the players hard. Some think the football program should have been given the death penalty by the NCAA. But a ban from bowl games and the opportunity to win a Big Ten title for the next four years is tough on players who expected to be in the national spotlight. Yet despite those sanctions, only nine players left the team to play elsewhere, although one was their top rusher, Silas Redd. Also gone, of course, is the late Joe Paterno, replaced by new head coach Bill O’Brien.
Because of the upheaval, many sports pundits don’t give the team much of a chance to have a successful season. Even if the team plays hard and wins some games, the affect will be bittersweet: those critical of Penn State’s handling of the crisis will pooh-pooh the achievement, while others just might anoint the team as the feel-good sports story of the year.
In any case, Saturday marks the beginning of a new reality for the Penn State players. They will be under a microscope not of their choosing for the rest of their college careers. But if they distinguish themselves well on the field, they just might be the most effective PR practitioners at Penn State.
Follow Scott Van Camp: @svancamp01