9. President Bryce Jordan and Penn State’s Entry into the Big Ten
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chapter 9 President Bryce Jordan and Penn State’s Entry into the Big Ten “Not being heard is no reason for silence.” —Victor Hugo (1862) The new tradition of Penn State presidents changing policy without Board of Trustees involvement, as in the 1980 athletic control coup d’état, continued one decade later as Penn State made a dramatic move into the prestigious Big Ten Conference. Previous Penn State presidents had not ignored the Board of Trustees in the creation of a new academic school to house athletics in 1930, and the trustees were directly involved in creating athletic scholarships (1900), eliminating them (1927), and creating scholarships again (1948). To the contrary, both President Oswald and President Bryce Jordan avoided the Board of Trustees in two major athletic-changing athletic policies in 1980 and 1990. President Oswald’s course of action, withdrawing athletics from an academic unit, had a negative impact on the academic integrity of the athletic program. In contrast, President Jordan’s decision to join the Big Ten was likely more important in raising Penn State academically than anything positive done for athletics. Whereas Joe Paterno’s move into the athletic director’s position contributed to isolating athletics from academics, Paterno’s iconic image was significant in convincing skeptics in the Big Ten to bring Penn State into a league with a number of superior educational institutions and raise the status of Penn State. Although the legacy of John Oswald will likely be lost to history, Bryce Jordan’s foresight in bringing Penn State into the Big Ten (without trustee involvement) will likely be one of the more significant accomplishments in the history of Penn State. Until joining the Big Ten, Penn State football had almost always been played independent of a conference, except for a short period in the 1890s.1 In the early 1920s when Hugo Bezdek was involved in a 30-game undefeated streak, he suggested to the Penn State alumni in Western Pennsylvania that an eastern conference should be created in football. Bezdek’s proposed conference would consist of all of the future Ivy League teams along with Pittsburgh and Syracuse. At the time, he hoped Harvard, Yale, and Princeton would “drop the purple saga of athletic aristocracy” in creating the conference.2 Obviously speaking like that would not Smith_text.indd 89 12/7/15 11:11 AM 90 chapter 9 endear Bezdek to any of the elite eastern schools, but Bezdek was not an endearing person. Nothing came of Bezdek’s suggestion. In the 1930s and 1940s with no athletic scholarships and Penn State playing mostly second- and third-rank institutions, there was no major discussion of a former big-time school joining the Lebanon Valleys and Dickinsons of the athletic world. Not until well after World War II, when Penn State became one of the athletic scholarship schools again, was there a movement to join a conference. There were attempts by Joe Paterno and others at Penn State to join an all-sports eastern conference. Before those efforts came about, however, and before Paterno became head coach, there was an agreement, if not a conference, among Pittsburgh , Syracuse, West Virginia, and Penn State to raise eligibility standards and entrance requirements to level the playing field among those four competing schools.3 When an extension on the ten-year agreement was being discussed in 1972, among other concerns, the “Big 4” would eliminate the practice of “red shirting” athletes (keeping football players out of competition for a year so that they could add physical maturity for later competition).4 Joe Paterno was opposed to both red shirting and freshman eligibility, but he did not like the extension. (He had opposed freshman eligibility and the National Collegiate Athletic Association [NCAA] decision to allow freshman to participate in varsity football and basketball in 1972.5 ) Paterno opposed President Oswald’s acceptance of the Big 4 agreement because, among other reasons, he said that having Western Pennsylvania’s Pittsburgh in the group of four would put pressure to include an eastern Pennsylvania school, Temple. “If Temple and Pitt are in it,” Paterno believed, “Penn State without a big city press will be greatly hurt as ‘poor cousins.’” He could see Pitt and Temple and two professional teams in the cities of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia dominating football and leaving Penn State with diminishing crowds. Paterno told President Oswald that, like George Washington, we should steer “clear of permanent alliances .”6 For once, Paterno’s wishes were not acceded...



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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