SPARTANBURG, S.C. —Georgia Southern football head coach Jeff Monken met former Penn State head coach Joe Paterno once at an American Football Coaches Association clinic.
"I shook his hand one time at an AFCA coaches clinic," Monken said Thursday during the Southern Conference’s Media Day. "He had a crowd around him. I grew up the son of a coach, so I have a great admiration for football coaches. I idolized coaches as I grew up."
Twelve members of Monken’s family, including his father Mike, have been or are high school or college football coaches.
Monken also is the father of three young daughters. He and his wife, Beth, do everything in their power to ensure that Isabelle, Amelia and Evangeline are safe.
That’s why the child sex abuse scandal involving former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, as well as allegations that the late Paterno helped to cover it up, hits extremely close to home for Monken.
"What happened up there is certainly just one of the worst things you can ever imagine happening at a university, at an institution of any kind, any school," Monken said. "Schools are a place where we as children felt protected, and we send our kids to school feeling like they’re going to be safe and protected. And when that trust is violated it’s hard. I can’t think of something more terrible that could happen.
"I just hope for the best for the kids that are a part of that program, for the coaches and that school as they move forward, that they’ll be able to move on. But steps should be taken so that doesn’t happen there or anywhere. I don’t want to see that happen anywhere. Our profession is no different than any other profession. There are going to be people that just don’t do it like you want them to do it all the time. It’s not a reflection on college football as a whole or college athletics as a whole. It’s the actions and decisions by individuals that ended up hurting a lot of people. You hate to see that happen, and have other people be punished and suffer because of that.
"More than anything, you ache and you anguish for the families of those people, and the victims more than anybody, that that happened to them. It’s just a terrible thing. Anytime. Not just there. Everywhere that that happens.
"I don’t have a particular comment about Coach Paterno or any of that. We’re going to always try to do things right in our program. And I think it’s just a reminder to all of us how important it is to always do the right thing."
Scandals, social media scrutiny
SoCon Commissioner John Iamarino on Thursday compared the current climate of college football to Charles Dickens’ novel "A Tale of Two Cities," saying, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness."
"The game has never been more popular than it is right now," Iamarino said. "I don’t think we’ve ever had more people paying attention, more months of the year, to college football. You can find shows on ESPN 12 months a year now about college football. And it permeates throughout Division I, the interest, the level of interest. We’ve never had this many fans and members of the media talking about college football. With all the technology that’s out there, and the social media elements, it’s never been as discussed, and there’s never been as great an appetite, frankly, for information as we have today."
Unfortunately, there is bad that comes with the good, Iamarino said.
"With all of the good things though there are some concerns in regards to college football," Iamarino said. "Fortunately, we’ve never had the depth and the number of scandals and issues, of course, that are all over the news, that we have to deal with as Division I administrators.
"We’ve been very fortunate with the Southern Conference that we typically don’t have those kind of issues. And that’s a credit to our administrators from the top down to the head coaches who are in this room to the student-athletes, who I have a great deal of admiration for and the way that they deal with the adversity that sometimes gets heaped on you as a student-athlete by fans, by members of the media, by other entities.
"We’ve never had so much scrutiny of the coaches and administrators, and the players, frankly. All those good things I talked about a minute ago with social media, they can also work the other way. And so that’s a concern."
Iamarino said he firmly believes that all of the conference realignment that has taken place and will continue to take place is a major mistake for college athletics.
"I honestly believe in 10 or 15 years, or whatever it takes, people are going to wake up and they’re going to go, ‘What were we thinking about?’" Iamarino said. "When rivalries like Kansas and Missouri, and Texas and Texas A&M, and West Virginia and Pittsburgh, and I can go on and on, have been evaporated. They’re no longer rivalries."
College of Charleston and Davidson, which do not offer football, are considering leaving the SoCon for the Colonial Athletic Association for basketball. GSU and Appalachian State have made public their plans to leave the SoCon at some point and move up to the Football Bowl Subdivision.
"Obviously, we have our own issues here within this conference," Iamarino said. "I will tell you to be very cautious of everything you read in print or electronically because I’m in the know. And I’ll be the first one to tell you, there have been some amazing things written about supposedly what I’m thinking or what I’m about to do.
"So I would just caution you, don’t believe everything you see in print or on a blog or on a website because we have taken the approach when it comes to conference matters that this is something that’s handled privately, within the conference membership. I report to 12 bosses, they are presidents and chancellors of colleges and universities, and so I can’t be very public with some of the things that are going on. But that doesn’t mean that we’re just sitting back and watching the world go by either."
New kickoff rule
Monken said he isn’t sure what to make of the NCAA’s decision to change rules for kickoffs, which will be moved from the 30-yard line to the 35-yard line in an attempt to help players avoid injuries.
"The kickoff rule is the only one that comes to mind that I think is a major change," Monken said. "It’s really different. It changes the game. The rule where you have to be within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage on a kickoff, the fact that a touchback comes out to the 25-yard line (instead of the 20). I think, No. 1, it discourages people from returning the kick. If you catch the ball in the end zone and get the ball at the 25, that’s about the only thing worth doing is taking a knee and downing it.
"But it also changes maybe the way people are going to kickoff. The ball moves out to the 35 rather than it being at the 30. You’ve got guys that don’t get as much of a running head start. You may see more squib kicks, and pooch kicks, and those kinds of things than in the past. I don’t know. It will be interesting to see just what wholesale changes happen."
Noell Barnidge may be reached at (912) 489-9408.