Friday, July 27, 2012

Penn State, USF, Joe Nocera, the NCAA, and Fr. John J. Lo Schiavo, S.J.

No more Penn State blogging! I promised myself, but not you, no more Penn State! Enough of the two tragedies; first the victims of Jerry Sandusky, and second the NCAA questionable mugging of Penn State.

Then Joe Nocera wrote a column in the New York Times Tuesday.  Joe is an outstanding columnist for the Times. He has written several columns this year pillorying the NCAA for its arbitrary and capricious rules and decisions, feckless behavior, and overall incompetence (all my words – not his).

Joe has strongly argued that the NCAA should give Penn State the death penalty. He was disappointed therefore by the sanctions imposed on Penn State by the NCAA. Hence his Tuesday column.

The column though pushed two of my buttons , two quasi-repressed buttons – University of San Francisco basketball and Fr. Lo Schiavo, S.J..

I earned my Bachelors and JD degrees from USF in 6 ½ years from 1964 – 1970. Basketball was the soul of the University as the legacy of Bill Russell carried through the 1960’s. USF won two national titles, winning 60 straight games, being the first team to start three African Americans, Bill Russell, K. C. Jones and Hal Perry, in the NCAA finals. USF had the second best team on the West Coast in the 1960’s, but second to the great John Wooden UCLA teams. The stars during my stay at the Hilltop included Ollie Johnson, Joe Ellis, Russ Gumina, Erwin Mueller, Larry Blum, and Huey Thomas.

The Jesuits were incredible – highly educated, excellent teachers and outstanding leaders, with one exception, the Dean of Students and then Vice President of Student Affairs. Fr. John J. Lo Schiavo, S.J. Fr. Lo Schiavo, President Emeritus, is esteemed, being the living history of 6 decades of USF. He is the ambassador to the San Francisco community.

I though thought him to be arrogant, hypocritical, and smarmy.

One example should suffice. He appointed a student, whose name shall remain nameless, a student of dubious academic credentials, to Alpha Sigma Nu, the National Jesuit Honor Society. The student’s family was a major contributor to USF.

That was 1966. Let’s skip to 1982, three decades ago.

What could a news junkie in Springfield, Massachusetts do? The internet did not exist. ESPN (1979) and CNN (1980) were in their infancy.

Fortunately the AM radio picked up WCBS, the all-news station from New York City.

One afternoon, while writing an article, I heard this heart stopping, breaking news flash on WCBS: “Father Lo Schiavo, President of the University of San Francisco, announced the suspension of the basketball team” for an indefinite period (three years).

Fr. Lo Schiavo was heralded nationally for placing academic integrity over sports, a powerful sports program. Among those applauding the decision were ironically Bobby Knight and Joe Paterno.

Basketball had become in Fr. Lo Schiavo’s eyes a monster with numerous violations threatening the academic integrity of the school: recruiting, academic, and now criminal. Papers and exams were faked for students (rumors which existed when I was a student). Quintin Dailey, the star player, was accused of assaulting a coed in her dorm room. He also admitted to getting paid for a summer job for which he performed no work. He pled guilty to aggravated assault, served no jail time, and played in the NBA.

That was it. The death-penalty was self-imposed. The basketball program never made a sustained comeback. The university has the Phoenix as a symbol, but basketball has never had a Lazarus rebirth from the basketball dead. A few NCAA and NIT tournaments, but Gonzaga now dominates the conference.

Friends at USF told me the real story was that Fr. Lo Schiavo was so upset by his earlier appearance before the NCAA that he vowed it would never happen again. It didn’t, and he didn’t. There’s no need for a NCAA investigation when the school falls on its sword.

That sounded like the Fr. Lo Schiavo I had come to know. He, as President of USF, had lost control over the basketball program. Rather than looking inward to himself, he sacrificed basketball.

That’s what Joe Nocera recommended for Penn State – to follow the example of USF and Fr. Lo Schiavo. I don’t recommend that for any school.

Fortunately I have Michigan football to still root for.     

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