8. The Joe Paterno, Steve Garban, John Oswald Coup d’État
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chapter 8 The Joe Paterno, Steve Garban, John Oswald Coup d’État “One mountain cannot accommodate two tigers.” —Chinese proverb (antiquity) “Power confuses itself with virtue and tends also to take itself for omnipotence.” —J. William Fulbright (1966) Two years before Joe Paterno’s team won Penn State’s first national football championship , a half-century tradition of athletic control under an academic dean was quietly buried. This covert and academically disturbing coup d’état of athletic control significantly isolated Penn State athletics away from any watchful eye of academic control. The power grab, more than any other single action, placed athletics in an insular division of Penn State, a financial, not an academic, arm of the university. The fact that the president of Penn State, John Oswald, made the decision without going to the Board of Trustees, logically the policymaker in the university, represented a major change from the actions of the Board of Trustees in 1930.1 At that time the trustees placed athletics within a new School of Physical Education and Athletics. The removal and isolation of athletics from academics may very well have contributed to questionable if not illegal actions taken by individuals at Penn State in the Sandusky Scandal. One should ponder the significance of two of the major figures in Penn State’s involvement in the Sandusky Scandal, Joe Paterno (head coach) and Steve Garban (president of the Board of Trustees), who were central figures in the 1980 athletic power coup. Five decades before Joe Paterno secured the athletic director’s position, another football coach, Hugo Bezdek, was dismissed, some called it fired, from the head coaching position at Penn State and made director of a new School of Physical Education and Athletics. The position was created in part to provide an accommodation for one of the highest paid football coaches in America, for Bezdek still had a few years to go on his 10-year coaching contract.2 President Ralph Dorn Hetzel, who did not like big-time commercial and professional athletics in institutions of higher learning, was able to satisfy alumni who wanted to get rid of Smith_text.indd 75 12/7/15 11:11 AM 76 chapter 8 Hugo Bezdek as coach. Hetzel, at the same time that he appeased the alumni by relieving Bezdek from coaching, would also recommend to the Board of Trustees the creation of a new school. Structurally it was similar to a School of Education or School of Engineering, but it was created principally to remove alumni control over athletics by placing athletics within an academic unit. Athletic control by the Penn State Board of Trustees in one of Penn State College’s schools continued from the 1930s until well after World War II. Nevertheless , alumni exercised a great deal of control during those years through the Alumni Association, first under the Board of Athletic Control and later the Alumni Advisory Committee of the Athletic Association. There were discussions about academic control throughout those years, including the period before the 1930 Board of Trustees decision. When the Penn State alumni met in the late 1920s to discuss the athletic problems, 91 percent of the alumni across the state voted to separate athletics from, not integrate athletics with, physical education—in part to get Hugo Bezdek out as coach.3 Throughout all this, President Hetzel prevailed in his effort to keep athletics in an academic unit. It remained there when Dean Ernie McCoy took over as athletic director in the early 1950s. At that time, the Board of Trustees again emphasized that athletics were to continue “within the structure of an academic unit and subject to the authority of an academic administrator.”4 Joe Paterno was then a seven-year assistant coach and probably did not know that the trustees had taken such an action, and 27 years later, when he was often considered the most powerful individual at Penn State, he paid no attention to it, for he was in pursuit of a national championship. By the 1960s, with Dean McCoy still in charge of athletics, a special committee of the Board of Trustees stated, “intercollegiate athletics must not be developed to the detriment of the academic and recreational offerings of the College.”5 It was this policy of the trustees that went awry in 1980. Then, as Joe Paterno was made athletic director, Steve Garban eyed his own involvement in athletics, and President John Oswald, who was earlier essentially fired as president of the University...



Subject Headings

  • Pennsylvania State University -- Sports.
  • Pennsylvania State University -- Football.
  • Paterno, Joe, 1926-2012.
  • Sandusky, Jerry.
  • Pennsylvania State University -- Sports -- Administration.
  • College sports -- Corrupt practices -- Pennsylvania -- University Park.
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