It's pretty clear that the Big Ten hopes Penn State doesn't make it to the league's inaugural championship game.
The conference is trying to distance itself as much as possible from the scandal in State College, Pa., going as far to announce today that Joe Paterno's name will be removed from the trophy that goes to the winner of the Dec. 3 title game in Indianapolis. It was to be called the Paterno-Stagg Championship Trophy. Now, the league is just going Stagg.
“We believe that it would be inappropriate to keep Joe Paterno’s name on the trophy at this time,” Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said in a release. “The trophy and its namesake are intended to be celebratory and aspirational, not controversial. We believe that it’s important to keep the focus on the players and the teams that will be competing in the inaugural championship game.”
Paterno was fired Wednesday night by the Penn State board of trustees, a few days after former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was charged with multiple counts of child sex abuse.
While the move by the league seems a bit premature -- after all, Paterno has not been charged with any crimes to this point -- it's understandable that the conference wants to steer clear from this mess. Which is why Big Ten officials must be praying that Wisconsin beats the Nittany Lions in the finale to keep them out of the title game. The league wants to promote that first event as much as possible throughout the week, but it would be completely overshadowed by the Penn State story at every news conference involving the participating teams, even though we must again point out the current Lions players had nothing to do with the current scandal.
A cynic might say that the Big Ten sure didn't mind courting controversy last year with a big game on the line when it lobbied for Ohio State to defer its tattoo suspensions so the Buckeyes could play with a full deck in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. But there are no cynics out there who want to take up that argument, right?
Delany said in his statement that it was inappropriate "at this time" for Paterno's name to be on the trophy. That opens the door for it perhaps to be restored on the hardware at a later date if more information comes out that could cast the coach in a more forgiving light for his role in the Sandusky case. You can bet this decision pained Delany.
But the league simply couldn't take the public relations hit that would come by awarding a trophy with Paterno's name on it to its league champion next month. Delany now just hopes he's not photographed handing the Stagg Trophy to the Nittany Lions that night.