Herald-Sun editorial: Reflections on a college football season

Dec. 01, 2012 @ 10:59 PM

It was an eventful year for the college football teams in our region. N.C. State fired Tom O’Brien and has landed a new coach, Dave Doeren of Northern Illinois. N.C. Central finished tied for third in its conference and 6-5 overall while losing three of its final four games, but the Eagles still finished markedly improved over the 2-9 campaign of a year ago.

Duke also faded late, finishing 6-6 after dropping its final four regular-season games, but the Blue Devils have a bowl game to look forward to for the first time since 1994, and David Cutcliffe was voted the top Atlantic Coast Conference coach.

North Carolina, in coach Larry Fedora’s first season, finished with a record of 8-4, 5-3 in the ACC.

The ACC title game was played Saturday night between Florida State and Georgia Tech. North Carolina would have appeared in that game last weekend, as winners of the league’s Coastal Division, but did not, because the Tar Heels were banned from postseason appearances this year because of NCAA penalties. The association penalized the program for violations related to improper benefits and academic misconduct.

Though some can and do question the idea of penalizing a program so far after the fact – the violations happened under the previous coaching staff – those penalties were fully justified, and if nothing else, serve as a deterrent and warning to other programs.

The North Carolina football program has responded this season in a dignified manner to living with the penalties, as it should. Players and coaches have not loudly bemoaned their fate. For the most part, they have kept their heads down, worked hard, and put together a solid season.

That dynamic is in contrast with the high-profile sendoffs of Penn State and Ohio State.

Penn State is under stringent NCAA penalties for four years following the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal. The school added “2012” to the stadium façade next to years marking unbeaten or championship seasons to honor the Nittany Lions’ 8-4 season.

Ohio State wrapped up a 12-0 season and, in its final game, fans gave a rousing greeting to Jim Tressel, the coach whose response to an improper benefits scandal helped lead to his ouster and sanctions that will prevent the Buckeyes from playing in a bowl game.

In both of these cases, some fans and school officials seem to have selective memories. The overcoming of adversity by players and coaches who had nothing to do with these scandals – OK, those efforts might be worthy of respect. But to seemingly forget the reason for the sanctions and penalties – the reason for that adversity in the first place – that is unseemly, at best.