Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Uncrowned Champion: Viktor Korchnoi

This article was originally published in the March/April 2009 issue of the Ohio Chess Connection.

Viktor Korchnoi, who lost World Championship matches to Anatoly Karpov in 1978 and 1981, is still going strong today; the 77 year old Grandmaster competes regularly and ranks among the top 230 players in the world! In September 2006, Korchnoi won the World Senior Chess Championship and as recently as 2007 he was still on FIDE’s top 100 list.

Jeff Sonas' Chessmetrics ratings are calculated slightly differently than FIDE ratings. According to Sonas' reckoning, Korchnoi was the number one chess player in the world from September 1965-December 1965. After briefly dropping as low as sixth on Sonas' list, Korchnoi was the second highest rated player in the world from August 1967-July 1970. Sonas ranked Korchnoi between second and eighth in the world for the next four years but Korchnoi then held on to the second spot on Sonas' list from September 1974 until December 1981. Korchnoi remained in Sonas' top ten through January 1983, dropped as low as #17 in July 1983 and then returned to Sonas' top 10 from February 1984 until March 1988. Korchnoi's last top 10 appearance in Sonas' rankings came in October 1990 when Korchnoi was 59 years old.

Korchnoi's one year peak rating in Sonas' system ranks 13th best all-time. Considering his remarkable durability, it is not surprising that Korchnoi's ranking goes up when one examines longer time frames; his best 20 year peak average ranks fifth all-time behind only Garry Kasparov, Anatoly Karpov, Emanuel Lasker and Alexander Alekhine, impressive company for a player who never won the World Championship.

Much like Paul Keres and David Bronstein faced certain pressures from Soviet authorities when they battled Mikhail Botvinnik for the World Championship, Korchnoi's path to the ultimate title was made more difficult--if not outright blocked--by the Soviets, who clearly preferred Karpov, an ethnic Russian and proud Communist party member, over Korchnoi, a player with Jewish ancestry who was hardly a Communist party loyalist even before he defected to the West.

In addition to the 1978 and 1981 World Championship matches, Korchnoi also lost the 1974 Candidates' Final match to Karpov; that turned out to be a de facto World Championship match after reigning World Champion Bobby Fischer forfeited the title to Karpov in April 1975. Karpov won his 1974 encounter with Korchnoi by the score of 12.5-11.5 (3-2, with 19 draws). The match was played in Moscow and Karpov enjoyed the full weight of Soviet support: he had the best trainers--Semyon Furman and Efim Geller; Furman had worked with Korchnoi in the past and thus was keenly familiar with his strengths and weaknesses. Meanwhile, other strong players were discouraged and/or prevented from offering any assistance to Korchnoi.

After the match, the Soviet authorities decided to punish Korchnoi for a host of "crimes" that he had committed in recent years, including various public statements that they considered to be unpatriotic; they forbade him from traveling abroad for a year, reduced his salary and denied him opportunities to write about chess or appear on television to talk about the game. In his 1978 autobiography Chess is My Life, Korchnoi wrote (p.119), "Strong pressure was being brought to bear on me, but there was also the feeling that they were awaiting for an appropriate moment, when I should begin playing less strongly, to bring me down completely." Understandably, Korchnoi defected from the Soviet Union in 1976, seeking asylum after sharing first place with Tony Miles in a tournament in Amsterdam. Although the Soviet authorities no longer directly controlled Korchnoi, they still put tremendous psychological pressure on him because his wife and son were now essentially prisoners of the state, forbidden to go live with him in the West.

In the next World Championship cycle, Korchnoi defeated former World Champions Tigran Petrosian and Boris Spassky to earn the right to face Karpov again. Prior to the match with Karpov, Korchnoi wrote an open letter to Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev: "Soviet leaders have declared more than once that sport must be separated from politics. It is self-evident that those states should also adhere to this principle who will participate in the World Sport Olympiad destined for Moscow in 1980. I appeal to your political common sense, my dear General Secretary: In order to ensure that this match for the World Chess Championship should take place under normal conditions, without political complications, I beg you to allow my family to depart from the Soviet Union."

Needless to say, the Soviets rejected Korchnoi's plea; they had already tried to get him banned from participating in the Candidates cycle and when that failed they found other ways to attack him politically and psychologically but--even though he ultimately fell just short of his goal--Korchnoi displayed his great fighting spirit in his match with Karpov. In the first 12 games, the players battled to a standstill (one win each, 10 draws) but Korchnoi had squandered several promising positions. Karpov then took what seemed to be a decisive lead by winning three of the next five games. Needing only two more wins to retain his crown--the match winner would be the first player to win six games, draws not counting--Karpov faltered, failing to win for nine straight games (eight draws, one Korchnoi win).

Karpov finally achieved his fifth win but then Korchnoi remarkably struck back with three victories in the next four games to tie the match at 5-5 (plus 21 draws). Karpov won game 32, ending one of the most rancorous matches in World Championship history. It is worth remembering that in addition to the political and psychological factors which favored Karpov in this match he also had Father Time on his side: the champion was 27 years old, while the challenger was 47.

The 1978 World Championship match seemed like a last hurrah at the top level for Korchnoi but he confounded the doubters, once again battling through the Candidates cycle to earn the right to challenge Karpov for the World Championship. Korchnoi's family was still trapped behind the Iron Curtain and in 1981 Karpov had a much easier time versus Korchnoi, winning 6-2 with 10 draws. Korchnoi made it to the semifinal round in the next Candidates cycle before losing to Garry Kasparov, the young titan who would ultimately end Karpov's reign. Korchnoi advanced to the Candidates round three more times (1985, 1988, 1991) but never again seriously challenged for the title.

Korchnoi has long been renowned for his defensive prowess but early in his career he understood that to contend for the World Championship he would have to change his style. As he explained in Chess is My Life (p. 51), "There came a time when I realized that the ability to defend was--for a good chess player--insufficient. You can't be dependent upon your opponent's will, you must try to impose your will on him...I would put down my successes in the 1960s, and my rise in stature as a chess player, to the fact that I learned how to fight for the initiative and maintain it." Here is an example of Korchnoi at his attacking best:

Efim Geller - Viktor Korchnoi [B03]

27th USSR Championship, 1960

1.e4 Nf6 Korchnoi needed a victory to retain any serious chances of winning the tournament, so he chose a sharp opening that Geller had not yet faced in serious tournament play. 2.e5 Nd5 3.d4 d6 4.c4 Nb6 5.f4 Bf5 6.Nc3 dxe5 7.fxe5 e6 8.Nf3 Be7 9.Be2 0–0 10.0–0 f6 "By undermining the opponent's center, Black solves his opening problems, although White retains a certain advantage in space" (Garry Kasparov). 11.Bf4?! Kasparov criticizes this move, saying that in this structure the B belongs on e3, supporting the d pawn. Since Geller only needed a draw to clinch at least a tie for first place, Kasparov adds, "The line that best corresponded with White's tournament objective was 11.exf6 Bxf6 12.Be3 Nc6 13.Qd2 Qe8 14.Rad1 Rd8 15.Qc1." In that case, Kasparov gives White a slight edge, but Korchnoi had played this position before, so from his perspective the opening had already been a success: "I had some experience with it, in contrast to Geller, who knew of the position only by hearsay. My choice of opening had been correct! Now it was just a matter of playing well." 11...Nc6 12.exf6 Bxf6 13.d5 Na5 14.Ne5 Bxe5 Korchnoi says of this move, "A mistake, typical of the early period of my chess career: in striving to win material as soon as possible, I underestimated the opponent's tactical possibilities." However, Kasparov concludes that Korchnoi's suggested improvement, ...Qe7, is in fact not objectively any stronger than the text: 14...Qe7 15.g4! Bxe5 16.Bxe5 exd5 17.Bg3 Be6 18.cxd5 Rxf1+ 19.Bxf1 Nxd5 20.Nxd5 Qc5+ 21.Bf2 Qxd5 22.Qxd5 Bxd5 23.Rd1 c6 24.b4 Nc4 25.Bxc4 Bxc4 26.Rd7 and White has sufficient counterplay for his material deficit. 15.Bxe5 Naxc4 16.Bxc4 Nxc4 17.Bxg7! Korchnoi admits that he overlooked this move but Kasparov praises "the very interesting possibility of counterplay" that Korchnoi found. 17...Ne3 17...Kxg7 18.Qd4+ Rf6 19.Qxc4 and White has the initiative (Kasparov). 18.Qe2!? 18.Qd4 Qg5 19.Rf2 Nc2 20.Rxc2 Qxg7= (Korchnoi). 18...Nxf1 19.Bxf8 Nxh2! 20.Bc5 20.Kxh2? Qh4+ 21.Kg1 Qd4+ (21...Rxf8 22.Qe5 is less clear [Kasparov].) 22.Kh2 Rxf8 23.Rd1 Qf4+ 24.g3 Qg4 and Black is better. However, after 20.dxe6 Ng4 21.e7 Qd6 (21...Qd4+ 22.Kh1 Qf4 23.g3 Qxg3 24.Rf1 Bd7 25.Qc4+ Kh8 26.Bg7+ Kxg7 27.Qf7+ Kh6 28.Qf8+ and White has a perpetual.) 22.Qf3 Be6 23.Ne4 Qh2+ 24.Kf1 Qe5 25.Kg1 White can hold. 20...Ng4 21.dxe6 Qh4 22.e7 Qh2+ 22...Re8?? 23.Qc4+ Kg7 24.Qf4± (Korchnoi). 23.Kf1 Qf4+ 24.Kg1 24.Ke1 "would have quickly led to the draw that White so desired" (Kasparov): 24...Qg3+ (24...Re8 25.Nd5 Qh2 26.Nxc7 Rxe7 27.Qxe7 Qg3+ 28.Kd2 Qd3+ 29.Ke1 Qg3+ with an equal position) 25.Kd1 Kf7 26.Qc4+ Kg6 27.Rc1 Ne5 28.Ne2 Qd3+ 29.Qxd3 Nxd3= 24...Re8 25.Qf3 Qh2+ 26.Kf1 Qh5 27.Qd5+? "In his career, Geller played and won many decisive games. When he needed to win, and his opponent was satisfied with a draw, he would calmly break down his opponent's resistance. He rarely found himself in the opposite situation--of fighting for a draw. And in this game his nerves let him down. Incidentally, similar situations also occurred with me and I did not always emerge with honor from a difficult situation" (Korchnoi). After 27.Kg1! Black has nothing better than forcing a repetition: 27...Qh2+ 28.Kf1 Qh5 (28...Qh1+?? 29.Ke2 Qxa1 30.Qxf5 Qxb2+ 31.Kd3+-) 27...Kg7 28.Qd4+ After 28.Re1 Bd3+ 29.Qxd3 Qxc5 30.Qg3 h5 White cannot play 31.Qh4?? because of 31...Qc4+ 32.Kg1 Qd4+ 33.Kf1 Ne3+ 34.Rxe3 Qxh4–+, but Kasparov points out that 31.Qf4 Rxe7 32.Rxe7+ Qxe7 33.Nd5 Qf7 34.Qxf7+ Kxf7 35.Nxc7 Ne3+ 36.Kf2 Nd1+ 37.Kg3 Nxb2 38.Nb5 would have led to a draw. 28...Kg6 29.Ne2 29.Qd8 Qh1+ 30.Bg1 Ne3+ 31.Ke2 Qxg2+ 32.Bf2 Kf7 33.Kxe3 Qg5+ 34.Kf3 Qg4+ 35.Ke3 Rxe7+–+ 29...Qh1+ 30.Ng1? 30.Qg1 Qxg1+ 31.Kxg1 b6 32.Ba3 Ne3 offers more resistance (Korchnoi). 30...b6 31.Qd8 Nf6 32.Ba3 Be4 33.Qd2 c5 34.b4 c4 35.b5 Bd3+ In the wake of Korchnoi's success in this tournament, David Bronstein wrote, "The play of the new USSR champion is characterized by amazing tenacity in defense, resourcefulness in attack and virtuoso mastery in the endgame." Famed Grandmaster and trainer Vladimir Simagin added, "In the field of tactical mastery, Korchnoi, in my view, is not inferior to Tal." In a career that has spanned six decades and counting, this still remains one of Korchnoi's favorite games: "This is a special game, one that is closest to my heart. Played towards the end of a difficult tournament, it is full of fighting spirit from start to finish." 0–1

This win helped Korchnoi to clinch the first of his four Soviet Championship titles. Although Korchnoi clearly proved that he could be a devastating attacker, he will forever be remembered mainly for his durability and for being a tenacious, opportunistic and resourceful defender. In Chess is My Life (p. 40), he recalled at least three occasions that he drew games after being down a minor piece, concluding, "It is evidently all a question of optimism. If a player believes in miracles, he can sometimes perform them."

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Bernie Fine Case Reveals Double Standards

As soon as the grand jury released its report about alleged pedophile Jerry Sandusky, ESPN and other media outlets essentially formed a lynch mob demanding Joe Paterno's head, a demand that the Penn State Board of Trustees eagerly met; while the media applauded the Board of Trustees' action, the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office was less than impressed: spokesman Nils Hagen-Frederiksen said, "We have a cooperating witness [Paterno], an individual who testified, provided truthful testimony but two others who were found by a grand jury to commit perjury whose legal expenses are being paid for university. One is on administrative leave. Very interesting development. It's certainly curious and [has] not been explained yet. Speaking as a prosecuting agency, we have a cooperating witness who has not been charged, while two individuals accused of committing crimes continue to be affiliated."

Sandusky had not been on Coach Paterno's staff for more than a decade by the time the grand jury report came out--but Syracuse assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine was literally Jim Boeheim's right hand man for the past 36 years, during which time Fine allegedly abused at least three children, including two Syracuse ball boys. While Paterno expressed sympathy for Sandusky's alleged victims and remorse that he had not been able to do more--even though the grand jury found that Paterno had not committed any wrongdoing--Boeheim called Fine's accusers money-hungry liars while sanctimoniously declaring, "I'm not Joe Paterno. Somebody didn't come and tell me Bernie Fine did something and I'm hiding it. I know nothing. If I saw some reason not to support Bernie, I would not support him. If somebody showed me a reason, proved that reason, I would not support him. But until then, I'll support him until the day I die." Boeheim certainly is "not Joe Paterno"--Paterno has a much better resume as an educator, philanthropist and coach than Boeheim does. There is also no indication that Paterno had direct knowledge of Sandusky's conduct, while at least one of Fine's accusers states that Boeheim saw him staying in Fine's hotel room on the road (it is unusual for ball boys to travel with a team, let alone stay in the same hotel room with an assistant coach).

After the evidence against Fine piled up--including a tape of Fine's wife admitting that she knew about Fine's conduct--Syracuse fired Fine on Sunday and Boeheim went into a full backpedal, apologizing for attacking the integrity of Fine's accusers and stating that victims of abuse should not hesitate to come forward. It is not yet clear exactly what Boeheim knew about Fine's alleged misconduct but Boeheim certainly was in a greater position to know about what Fine was doing--and had a greater responsibility to keep tabs on his right hand man--than Paterno was in position to know about the actions of someone who had not been on his staff for more than 10 years. I am not saying that Boeheim should be fired but at the very least he should be formally reprimanded for the irresponsible comments he made right after the Fine investigation became publicized; obviously, if any evidence comes to light that Boeheim in any way covered up for Fine then Boeheim should be fired (I have the same opinion about Paterno--the reason I object to his firing is that Paterno was fired without any evidence that he did anything wrong).

Meanwhile, the same ESPN that littered the airwaves with high-minded commentary about Paterno's supposed moral failings suppressed for nearly a decade the tape that Fine accuser Bobby Davis made of Fine's wife admitting knowledge of Fine's homosexual/pedophilic proclivities and activities. Why didn't ESPN turn that tape over to the authorities? How many children did Fine abuse after ESPN had reason to believe that he is a sexual predator? ESPN and other media outlets insisted that Paterno deserved to be immediately fired even though a grand jury found that he committed no wrongdoing and had no knowledge of Sandusky's conduct; applying that reasoning, how many ESPN executives and reporters should be immediately fired for not alerting the police about the Davis tape?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Joe Posnanski Criticizes the Media's Coverage of the Sandusky Scandal

The most striking thing about ESPN's seemingly around the clock coverage of the Sandusky Scandal is that Jerry Sandusky's name is hardly mentioned at all. ESPN and other media outlets have made Joe Paterno the face of this scandal--and Penn State's Board of Trustees piled on by unceremoniously firing Paterno instead of letting him retire after his contract expired at the end of this season.

Joe Posnanski, who has been working on a biography of Paterno for the past two years, strongly believes that the voracious appetite of the 24 hour news cycle has unfairly chewed up and spit out the good name of a fundamentally decent man. Here is an excerpt from Posnanski's take on Paterno's firing:

I’m not saying I know Joe Paterno. I’m saying I know a whole lot about him.

And what I know is complicated. But, beyond complications--and I really believe this with all my heart--there’s this, and this is exclusively my opinion: Joe Paterno has lived a profoundly decent life.

Nobody has really wanted to say this lately, and I grasp that. The last week has obviously shed a new light on him and his program--a horrible new light--and if you have any questions about how I feel about all that, please scroll back up to my two points at the top.

But I have seen some things in the last few days that have felt rotten, utterly wrong--a piling on that goes even beyond excessive, a dancing on the grave that makes me ill. Joe Paterno has lived a whole life. He has improved the lives of countless people...

I am sickened, absolutely sickened, that some of those people whose lives were fundamentally inspired and galvanized by Joe Paterno have not stepped forward to stand up for him this week, have stood back and allowed him to be painted as an inhuman monster who was only interested in his legacy, even at the cost of the most heinous crimes against children imaginable.

Shame on them.

And why? I’ll tell you my opinion: Because they were afraid. And I understand that. A kind word for Joe Paterno in this storm is taken by many as a pro vote for a child molester. A quick, “Wait a minute, Joe Paterno is a good man. Let’s see what happened here” is translated as an attempt to minimize the horror of what Jerry Sandusky is charged with doing. It takes courage to stand behind someone you believe in when it’s this bad outside. It takes courage to stand up for a man in peril, even if he stood up for you...

...the way Joe Paterno has lived his life has earned him something more than instant fury, more than immediate assumptions of the worst, more than the happy cheers of critics who have always believed that there was something phony about the man and his ideals. He deserves what I would hope we all deserve--for the truth to come out, or, anyway, the closest thing to truth we can find.

I don’t think Joe Paterno has gotten that. And I think that’s sad.

Christine Flowers Blasts Penn State for Hastily Firing Joe Paterno

When I criticized Penn State's Board of Trustees for firing Joe Paterno I realized that I was swimming against a tidal wave of public opinion but I simply felt that someone has to speak truth to power regardless of how controversial that stance might be; no matter how many people say otherwise, it is not justified to fire Joe Paterno without clear cause nor does that summary action realistically bring comfort to Jerry Sandusky's alleged victims. It is heartening to find that at least one other writer is not afraid to speak an unpopular truth: a Philadelphia Daily News column by Christine Flowers brilliantly makes it clear that it is possible--and indeed quite reasonable--to feel full compassion for Sandusky's alleged victims while also believing that Penn State's Board of Trustees acted in a cowardly and disgraceful fashion toward Paterno. Flowers' entire piece is worth reading but her conclusion is particularly stirring:

I'm seething with anger that Penn State decided to fire Paterno before letting the legal system wind its way through the normal processes. This is a man who gave unerringly of himself to the college, who built Penn State and who didn't deserve to be kicked to the side of the road for appearances sake.

Was it too much to ask for a little introspection before trashing his legacy?

It's not a simple case of blind loyalty, nor does it mean that we're ignoring the plight of the abused kids. Clearly, there is evidence that heinous crimes were committed. But, why is it only when the accuser is a child or a woman that the usual presumption of "innocent until proven guilty" is exchanged for "hang 'em high"?

And the fact that the board of trustees didn't even have the decency to tell the greatest coach of the last half-century, in person, that he was being fired is a disgusting example of cowardice.

Pliny once wrote, "It is generally much more shameful to lose a good reputation than never to have acquired it."

JoePa definitely acquired it. But the shame is ours.

The Penn State Board of Trustees claims to be acting in the best interests of Penn State University and most media members are blindly parroting that idea but the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office--which presumably knows more about this case than ESPN's talking heads and the various other commentators who apparently delight in bashing Paterno--has a completely different take: spokesman Nils Hagen-Frederiksen said, "We have a cooperating witness [Paterno], an individual who testified, provided truthful testimony but two others who were found by a grand jury to commit perjury whose legal expenses are being paid for university. One is on administrative leave. Very interesting development. It's certainly curious and [has] not been explained yet. Speaking as a prosecuting agency, we have a cooperating witness who has not been charged, while two individuals accused of committing crimes continue to be affiliated."

The way that Penn State has handled this entire matter is a joke but not a very funny one. Why did Penn State muzzle Paterno (by cancelling his regularly scheduled news conference prior to firing him), not bring forth any administrator to publicly speak about the scandal and then send out interim head coach Tom Bradley to face questions that he cannot--and should not have to--answer? What possible sense does it make to fire Paterno and yet retain the services of Mike McQueary, the person who witnessed--and did nothing to stop--a criminal act? Why did Penn State initially indicate that McQueary would be on the sidelines during Saturday's Nebraska game and only after much public outcry then switch gears and say that--allegedly for his own protection--McQueary would not in fact be on the sidelines? If the idea behind firing Paterno was to prevent the Nebraska game from becoming an unseemly spectacle it is fair to say that the Board of Trustees completely failed--and that this failure was quite foreseeable.

The Board of Trustees acted with but one goal in mind--turning Paterno into the public face of and scapegoat for the Sandusky Scandal; the Board is despicable and most of the media coverage of Paterno's firing is equally despicable.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Cowardly Lions: Penn State Acted Slowly on Sandusky Allegations but Swiftly Made Paterno a Scapegoat

Penn State University officials acted very slowly regarding allegations that former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky sexually abused children--so slowly, in fact, that two high ranking Penn State officials have been charged with perjury and with failing to report child abuse. Now that Sandusky faces a 40 count indictment, Penn State has decided to act quickly--not to punish the aforementioned two officials but to zero in on the biggest name tangentially associated with this case and transform him into the scapegoat for the university's sins. Joe Paterno, the winningest coach in major college football history and a respected figure with an exemplary record on and off the field during his 46 year tenure as the face and voice of Penn State Nittany Lions football, was unceremoniously fired on Wednesday night via a hastily arranged phone call. The 84 year old Paterno, whose name scarcely appears in the 23 page Grand Jury report about Sandusky and who was absolved of any wrongdoing--unlike former Penn State Athletic Director Timothy Curley and former Penn State Senior Vice President Gary Schultz--offered to retire at the end of this season (when his contract expires) but rather than allow the legend to bow out gracefully the Board of Trustees shamed and embarrassed a man who has devoted his life not just to the school's football program but also to upgrading the school's academics.

Above and beyond Paterno's numerous on-field accomplishments, Paterno donated and raised tens of millions of dollars for Penn State's library and for the school's various colleges/academic departments. Paterno certainly valued winning but he emphasized doing things the right way; he suspended star players Curtis Enis and Joe Jurevicius for the 1998 Citrus Bowl for infractions that probably would have been ignored at most other big-time college programs. In 2000, Paterno caught some flak for not suspending starting quarterback Rashard Casey, who was charged with assault but later found not guilty. Those two snapshots from Paterno's career demonstrate his character: when he knew that star players had committed wrongdoings he kicked them off of the team even though that could have cost Penn State a big win but when he believed that his player was innocent he stood behind that player despite receiving a lot of very public and very harsh criticism. Jerry Sandusky, Timothy Curley and Gary Schultz have been charged with crimes but the Penn State Board of Trustees would like to turn Paterno into the public face of this scandal, make him the official scapegoat and then run him out of town, presumably carrying the bulk of the filth from this mess on his back.

The press conference announcing Paterno's firing was surreal. John P. Surma, the Board's vice chairman and the designated spokesman for the evening, could not provide one specific reason that Paterno had to be fired immediately. Surma admitted that he and the Board did not have all of the facts of the case and did not know anything beyond what appears in the Grand Jury's report. Surma would neither confirm nor deny that Penn State is paying the legal fees for Curley and Schultz. All Surma could do was mindlessly repeat the mantra that firing Paterno was "in the best interest" of Penn State University. That would certainly be true if, in fact, Paterno had committed a crime or if there were good reason to believe that he had been grossly negligent--but based on the publicly available information, it could be argued that the most that Paterno is guilty of is having too much faith in the ability/willingness of his superiors to properly handle the situation that he had brought to their attention, namely that (according to Paterno's testimony, which the Grand Jury found to be credible) in 2002 Mike McQueary had told Paterno that he saw Sandusky engaging in some kind of "horseplay" in a shower with a 10 year old boy. McQueary now says that he saw Sandusky sodomize the boy but there is no evidence or testimony that he communicated that important detail to Paterno; thus, Paterno immediately passed on what he knew--that McQueary had seen Sandusky conduct himself in a questionable manner--to Curley, who did not pursue the matter in 2002 and who provided testimony that the Grand Jury considered to be false. Why is there not more anger directed at McQueary? If McQueary, then a 28 year old adult, truly witnessed Sandusky sodomizing a boy in a shower why didn't McQueary immediately take physical action to prevent the crime and/or call the police? Surma indicated that no action has been taken to fire McQueary, who is now Penn State's recruiting coordinator/receivers coach. Why is it apparently so important to fire Paterno but not important to fire McQueary?

Much has been made by the media about Paterno's recent statement that he wishes he had done more but, as ESPN's Rece Davis astutely pointed out, the full quote from Paterno is that "in hindsight" Paterno wishes he had done more; Davis noted that there is a big difference between saying that in hindsight one wishes that one had done more and saying that one believes that he did not do enough based on what he knew at the time. I would hope that in hindsight each person associated with this sordid case wishes that he had done more but the Board of Trustees owed it to Paterno to let Paterno clearly state what he knew and when he knew it before just ending his career in such an impersonal and abrupt manner. Paterno wanted to answer questions about the Sandusky scandal but Penn State cancelled Paterno's regularly scheduled Tuesday press conference. Paterno abided by the university's wishes that he not speak publicly but that just seemed to make the situation worse; various media members took the absurd position that Paterno must be fired now because it would supposedly be an untenable situation for Paterno to answer questions about Sandusky for the first time after this Saturday's Nebraska game. Instead of cancelling Paterno's press conference and then firing him for not talking, wouldn't it make more sense to simply let Paterno talk? Unless, of course, the Board of Trustees is more interested in creating a scapegoat than really finding out exactly who was negligent back in 2002.

I don't care if people would be rioting to get Paterno fired or rioting for him to keep his job, the Board of Trustees should make decisions based on facts--not on emotion and not on perceived public relations/crisis management considerations. You don't fire a good man because this may create a favorable soundbite or reduce the media crush. The Board should have met with Paterno face to face and given him an opportunity to explain what he did or did not know and what he did or did not do regarding whatever McQueary told him in 2002. If Paterno could not satisfactorily explain his conduct then it certainly would make sense to fire him--but in the absence of clear evidence of Paterno's guilt or complicity how can the Board justify dismissing him without even giving any cause? In the absence of overwhelming evidence, decades of devoted service should not be obliterated by a brief, impersonal phone call. The sad, perverted irony is that Sandusky will get more of an opportunity to plead his case in court than the Board of Trustees gave Paterno to salvage his good name.

I don't know if Sandusky is guilty of some or all of the heinous charges against him but has everyone forgotten the Duke lacrosse scandal and the Kobe Bryant case? Public opinion vociferously spoke out against the Duke lacrosse players and against Bryant but in both instances the criminal charges were ultimately dropped. Sandusky will get his day in court and it makes sense for Penn State to suspend or fire various officials who face criminal charges and/or clearly did not perform their basic duties but it is unfair and unjust to fire Paterno without ascertaining the basic facts--and Surma stated that the Board has not ascertained those basic facts.

Paterno's "Grand Experiment"--the idea that academic achievement, integrity and high level athletic accomplishment are not mutually exclusive goals at major colleges--has now ended with Penn State humiliating and betraying a man who made so many contributions not just to his football program but to his school. The Penn State Board of Trustees voted unanimously to immediately fire Paterno; I hope that they are damn sure that he is as culpable as everyone will assume him to be in the wake of the disgrace that they have heaped upon him and his good name, because terminating Paterno's career in this abrupt manner has placed a permanent stain on his legacy.

The stark reality is that Paterno is either a basically good man who has been taken down by a Board that has been pressuring him to retire off and on for several years or he is to some degree complicit in horrifying acts of abuse against defenseless children. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, I believe that the former is the case--but, regardless of what will come out in the ensuing days, weeks and months, Paterno's "Grand Experiment" has ended ignominiously and its demise may very well be the death knell for any hope of salvaging the integrity of collegiate sports: the whole infrastructure of major collegiate athletics needs to be reconfigured, most likely by reorganizing it as various minor leagues that are partially, if not completely, separated from the academic mission of our nation's universities; the unholy marriage of higher education with big-time sports seems to be irredeemably corrupt on multiple levels, resulting in an endless parade of scandals, criminal charges and broken lives.