by BRAD ROLLINS
DRIPPING SPRINGS — The NCAA’s decision to strip 11 years of football victories from official record books as punishment for Penn State’s handling of the Sandusky child rape allegations is “idiotic” and misdirected, retired college basketball coaching great Bobby Knight told a Dripping Springs crowd Thursday evening.
NCAA officials handed down the sanctions on Monday as part of a package that fines Nittany Lions athletics $60 million; bans it from postseason football for four years and slashes the number of scholarships it can offer student athletes. The ruling also stripped the school of any football victory it earned between 1998-2011, a measure that cuts the heart out of beloved head coach Joe Paterno’s career records and knocks him from his ranking as the most winning college football coach in NCAA history. Paterno died in January, two months after he was fired.
“I don’t know whether the NCAA actually has the prerogative to do what it did. This seems to me to be a criminal offense that they’re dealing with. I think it’s a terrible thing that they would take [winning] games away from these kids,” Knight told a crowd of nearly 100 people at a political fundraiser in the Dripping Springs home of former Hays County Judge Jim Powers.
“This was the most educationally sound football team playing in the country, and to eliminate those wins, I think, is idiotic. What the hell did those kids have to do with it? They’re not punishing Paterno. Paterno’s dead. They’re punishing these kids that graduated, that played the game. I think that is ridiculous, that part of it,” Knight said.
Knight was asked by an attendee about the NCAA sanctions against Penn State during a question-and-answer period following remarks by Knight and Weatherford car dealer Roger Williams, who is running for the Republican nomination in Texas’s 25th congressional district. He said he was talking specifically about the part of the sanctions vacating Penn State victories, not the rest of the penalties.
Former FBI director Louis Freeh concluded in an investigation that Paterno lied to grand jurors about how long he knew longtime assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was being accused of sexually assaulting boys. Sandusky, 68, was convicted in June of molesting or raping 10 boys over a years-long period; he is awaiting sentencing and is likely to spend the rest of his life in jail.
At the fundraiser
, Knight said he can’t understand why Paterno did not do more to bring allegations against Sandusky to the attention of law enforcement. But he described Paterno’s behavior as a “terrible mistake” in an otherwise shining career.
“I feel badly for Joe and I’d like to think that if that had happened to me, I would have gone to the police. All he had to do was take it to the chief of police and say, ‘Here’s what I got.’ But, you know, you never know how someone else’s mind works,” Knight said.
Knight said Paterno talked him out of a stunt Knight intended to pull at a game in 1990 between Knight’s Indiana Hoosiers and the Penn State basketball team.
Knight had already riled up Pennyslvannia residents when he welcomed Penn State to the Big Ten by quipping that road games to rural State College, Pa. required a three-day camping trip. Knight said he intended to stoke the controversy further by wearing camouflaged camping gear on the sidelines while coaching the game. But Paterno convinced Knight the provocation would backfire.
“He was really concerned about me. He was looking after me” even though he and Paterno were not close, Knight said. He’s since wondered why Paterno did not feel similar empathy for Sandusky’s victims. “That’s hard for me to associate those two things.”
Knight, the second-most winning college basketball coach in NCAA history, is known for being stubbornly outspoken. He did not disappoint the audience at the Powers’ fundraiser. Williams, who looks to clench the GOP nomination in next Tuesday’s runoff election, is a longtime friend, Knight said. Williams would take to Congress the sensibilities of a businessman, not a politician, he said.
“He’s not a damn politician,” Knight said of Williams.