As expected from "OTL" and almost anything that involves host Bob Ley, the show was fair, honest and informative.
For viewers fully engaged in the story, there were hardly any revelations, but the hour-long program featured two panel discussions and a one-on-one interview with NCAA president Mark Emmert conducted by Ley that were interesting and never disintegrated into (much) baseless opinion or shouting.
All of the segments produced something good. Of course, certain portions of the show also probably left some viewers frustrated. None of that was Ley's fault, though.
A general line
An initial panel with Jeremy Schaap, Tom Rinaldi and Don Van Natta Jr. provided moments some viewers -- at least those located in central Pennsylvania and most familiar with the situation -- probably found most frustrating.Specifically, generalizations, the kind of things some national media members have utilized far too often with this story, were troublesome. At one point, Schaap mentioned the power of former coach Joe Paterno and said campus leaders were clearly the coach's underlings. "Any president that took measures probably would fail and might be fired."
Now, that sounds compelling, but it's also the kind of sweeping generalization that makes national media members sound disconnected. While Paterno's rebuff of an attempt by then university president Graham Spanier and athletic director Tim Curley to oust him in 2003 has been well documented, there was only one such attempt. It's not as if multiple Penn State leaders challenged Paterno and lost through the years.
Similarly, even with three standout reporting talents like Schaap, Rinaldi and Van Natta, some important context for the scandal was lacking during the first part of the show.
Everything, in terms of individuals, remained focused on Paterno. The name of his ultimate boss, and Penn State's overall leader when the scandal arose, Spanier, was never mentioned until 20 minutes into the show. As the NCAA discusses the "culture" of intercollegiate athletics and an emphasis on things other than academics, it was interesting that the folks covering the story focused more on the sports side than those responsible at the highest level.
At one point, Van Natta noted that the Freeh Report was a "damning document" for everyone, including administrators and the Board of Trustees.
Still, no reporting was dedicated to what would happen, or has not happened, to those two groups of people. While that information might still play out, and is not as easy to unearth, or as easy to hear as the clear public outcry against Paterno (which are among the reasons the media has had trouble or simply has not tracked down the information), it remains the kind of hole in reporting on the overall story that some people notice. As a result, people sometimes then generalize that as media bias.
Power line propels storyLines of bias and inaction work on both sides for the media and in terms of media perception with the scandal, too. For those consuming the story, especially some of those who support Penn State, the program's traditionally clean reputation might be part of the problem. Where those people saw something to tout and share their pride, others on the outside perceived as a holier-than-thou approach. Of course, that made tracking the story all the more engaging for some media members. It has also allowed some to sense a bit of bias by the media. Neither outlook might be true, but both sides have certainly given the other fodder to believe they're correct.
Still, the most powerful factor in the Penn State scandal was confirmed during the 'OTL' special -- and that's been public opinion. During the Q-and-A session with Ley, Emmert said public influence was a factor almost immediately. When the NCAA sent a letter to Penn State last November, it made the letter public, as opposed to doing so in a typically private manner with such matters. Ley asked about the change in tactics. "Well, because everybody was wondering" if the NCAA had a role or would take action, Emmert said.
Later in the interview, Ley appropriately questioned Emmert about NCAA-influenced perceptions that Penn State was somehow failing or at fault academically as a result of a "culture" on campus or the scandal. Ley compared the culture in Happy Valley with that at any major college football school, cited Penn State's previous poster-child status and wondered aloud if the case was really not so much about a culture but moreso about four men at the top of that making faulty decisions over a period of 10 years.
"It could well be," replied Emmert -- which would seem to contradict the entire need or reason for sanctions, and it was not a question that had been asked -- or answered -- in that manner during the first day and a half after the NCAA's actions. But, there was, by that point, even more of a public outcy that necessitated NCAA action. Emmert indicated as much, as the result of appropriate questions and follow-up by Ley.
A final panel on the show -- with Chris Fowler, Rece Davis and Rod Gilmore (a nice opportunity for him after usually falling lower in ESPN's college football pecking order) -- addressed the uphill battle Penn State faces on the field in the coming years, reiterating the likely impact of the lost scholarships on the team's win-loss record in coming seasons. As always, they expressed concern for the children Jerry Sandusky assaulted and victimized.
They separated that part of the story and also wondered about the sanctions themselves and the role the public (and the NCAA's desire for a strong PR move) played in the decision. It was a perspective not given much time on ESPN or many other outlets in recent days, and the balance and consideration of different angles to the multifaceted story made the show stronger, without leaving the host and panelists perceived as Penn State apologists or somehow out of touch. They were exactly the opposite -- just doing their jobs. And doing them rather well.