Penn State football’s punishment from the NCAA is one of the three most severe ever handed out by the NCAA. SMU’s death penalty sentence in 1987 and Kentucky basketball’s hit in 1989 are really the only two comparable sanctions ever placed upon a college program. Thus as Penn State looks to try and recover, the NY Times today suggested that UK basketball’s rise should become their model. Harvey Araton traces the way that Rick Pitino sought to build the UK program back, focusing primarily on how he was able to keep any players in the system. He notes that most of the good players left campus, but the ones that stayed ended up having a different type of reward that made them legends in the state of Kentucky. After noting that Farmer, Pelphrey, Feldhaus and Woods all ended up with their jerseys retired, he concludes,
Those seniors – known in Kentucky as the Unforgettables – helped peeled away for a short time the layers of ostentation that have bloated big-time college sports. At Penn State, there is no choice but to get smaller and think smaller. Given the somewhat grotesque feeding frenzy the N.C.A.A. has sanctioned, players have every right to leave to play for a national title or simply on a team not staggered by scandal.
There are no guarantees anywhere, but those who stay may discover there are rewards to downscaling they never would have imagined.
The article as a whole is worth reading, although there will be very little new for most UK fans. I have read some criticism from folks who don’t like UK being “compared” to Penn State, but I don’t think that is the article’s goal at all. The scandals at the two schools are nothing alike, but the recovery process for both can have some similarities. For Penn State’s sake, I am sure their fans and coaches hope that there are a few Unforgettables left at State College.