In a matter of days, Joe Paterno went from being one of the most respected men in college football to one of the most criticized.

As the most powerful figure in the Penn State football program, he is what the program stands for. He carries responsibility for everything that characterizes the classic navy and white uniforms that dot the field of Beaver Stadium. With such a title, Paterno must acknowledge that he did not take appropriate action after learning of the disturbing allegations against former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. Paterno must realize that he was integral to the cover-up of the scandal in State College. He must realize that it’s time to step down.

The time to leave is now. Paterno is a man with, up until perhaps now, a nearly infallible legacy, and it’s understandable that some want to let him finish out the year and leave with some sense of pride. But there is simply too much at stake in this situation. The allegations are much too sobering to allow him to represent the program any longer. At this point, his legacy is nothing more than a minor concern in comparison to the fact that Paterno knew about the alleged inappropriate activities of his close friend and fellow coach.

Despite Matt Millen’s tear-filled attempt to claim the investigation is still ongoing, that people shouldn’t be so quick to judge the man at the helm of his alma mater, it’s clear Paterno had knowledge of the allegations facing his coach. No further investigation is needed to prove that the man in the thick, dark-framed glasses with the raspy voice deserves significant responsibility for this scandal. 

According to the grand jury testimony, the legendary coach was informed of Sandusky’s alleged inappropriate behavior with a boy in the locker room shower in 2002 and reported the activity to athletic director Tim Curley and other school administrators, but did nothing more than that. When a head coach, particularly one of the most powerful men on campus such as Paterno, learns of such an incident, reporting to school officials is simply not enough. He should have gone to the police and sought attention for the issue, but instead he decided to simply fulfill his legal obligation and do nothing more.

It’s certainly possible that Paterno did not realize that Sandusky had allegedly assaulted close to 20 boys, according to a breaking story on myfoxphilly.com, but one incident is more than ample grounds to take action. Friendships must be placed aside when there are accusations of sexual abuse. Apart from his duty as a head coach, his role as a father should have been reason enough to make sure Sandusky’s actions received appropriate attention. He certainly isn’t the only person to blame for this massive cover-up, but as the head of the football program, he should rightfully be held responsible.

As the winningest coach in FBS history, Paterno has received plenty of positive attention over the years, and is in such a position he must also be subject to the justified criticism he faces. Between the big paychecks and the allure of being one of the most highly regarded coaches in college football comes the expectation that a head coach will step up in difficult situations and make the tough – but right – decisions in such disturbing situations. High profile coaches are supposed to make big-time decisions, and JoePa simply hasn’t lived up to that standard.

Additionally, the scandal that is quickly casting a dark shadow over Beaver Stadium was only worsened by the university’s poor handling of the situation. Only allowing questions regarding the Nebraska game at Paterno’s Tuesday press conference and then canceling it only makes it appear that the university is still trying to hide information from the media. There is no worse way to deal with a scandal built around a cover-up of sexual abuse allegations than to not allow access to a head coach who reportedly had knowledge of Sandusky’s alleged actions.

After destroying any hope of limiting the damage of this breathtaking scandal, Paterno has no choice but to step down. With Curley, the athletic director, and vice president for business and finance Gary Schultz stepping down Monday in light of perjury charges, it’s clear that Paterno’s career has come to an unexpected end. The head coach’s son, Scott Paterno, said his father has not been asked to step down, but it needs to be done.

No one wanted it to end this way. Whether an alumnus who lives for gamedays in State College or a diehard SEC fan, Paterno was a character respected around the country. He was the old-school, grandfather-like character who had hardly changed since his first game as head coach in 1966. Even if he was nothing more than a figurehead at Penn State in recent years, he remained the pride of the program and a man revered by students.

Students camped out in “Paternoville” for front row seats and studied in Paterno Library. As a man whose legacy is felt across campus, it’s hard to believe he played an integral role in a scandal that could have the program and university hurting for years.

When the Nittany Lions take the field at Beaver Stadium Saturday, there will be a certain somberness among the cheering crowds. Fans will look down on the once alluring head coach with a radically different point of view, realizing what he allowed Sandusky to get away with.

It’s an end no one could have imagined, but it’s here. Whether a first-year coach or a man who has paced the sidelines for 46 years, a scandal of this magnitude can only be overcome by starting anew.

Ian is a junior majoring in journalism. Do you agree that JoePa needs to go, or should the university allow him to finish out the year? Let him know at [email protected] or tweet @imccue.

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