UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The “major announcement” from Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner and president Rodney Erickson will come at 4:15 p.m. today, a few hours after the Penn State Board of Trustees compensation committee is slated to meet and discuss the approval of a contract.
The subject has been reported by CBS and ESPN to be James Franklin, in line to be Penn State’s newest football coach.
He comes from Vanderbilt. In three years, he has taken the once-dormant program to three bowl games and two consecutive nine-victory seasons. He also comes from a team affected by a sexual assault scandal.
Last year, four Vanderbilt players were charged with raping a woman. A fifth was charged with covering up the rape and later pled guilty. The other four await trial. All five were dismissed from the team by Franklin.
According to several media accounts, the prosecution has cleared Franklin of any wrongdoing. An attorney for one of the defendants has called for the release of text messages sent by coaches regarding the incident. Franklin also could possibly be called to testify if and when the case goes to trial.
Part of the community of a university that is still recovering from the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal believes Franklin is not the right man. Michelle Rodino-Colocino, a Penn State professor in the college of communications, started a petition on change.org calling for the Penn State Board of Trustees and the Penn State football search committee to not hire Franklin.
“These key decisions are very symbolic,” she said in a phone interview. “I think they are so vital not just to our image but to doing the work to stop rape culture. I was happy with Bill O’Brien, but if they go forward with James Franklin I feel that’s a step back.”
Rodino-Colocino started the online petition Friday morning. As of Friday evening more than 300 people had signed it.
Rodino-Colocino said the response she had gotten was mostly positive. She had heard from alumni and fellow faculty members of Penn State, as well as faculty from other universities. They are concerned about the message being sent and how it might reflect on Penn State.
“Even if all our administration cares about is our brand image and our legal liability,” she said, “what’s going to happen when the trial happens?”
Regarding image, Bob O’Gara, a communications professor at Point Park University who teaches public relations, said Penn State would be wise to not hire Franklin.
“Your reputation follows you wherever you go, whether he’s been accused or charged or not,” he said. “There’s still a public perception that he’s involved in a pretty nasty situation, and it’s a character issue. And Penn State is rebuilding its character. It’s a great university with many, many good things going on up there, and they don’t need to add any negatives. And I see this as a negative.”
Marc Jampole, principal of the PR firm Jampole Communications, disagrees. He said the state of Tennessee’s clearing Franklin of wrongdoing gives Penn State justification for hiring him.
National columnists such as Dennis Dodd of CBS and Christine Brennan of USA Today wrote unfavorably about Penn State’s decision to likely hire Franklin the past two days. Jampole said stories such as those would die down soon unless new information ties Franklin to the case.
“If we were to disqualify every football coach whoever had a player who was accused of rape, there wouldn’t be a lot of coaches left,” Jampole said. “It’s a sad thing, and I’m completely on the side of the victim. And, if these guys did it, I hope they are prosecuted to the full letter of the law. … I think, for Penn State, that shouldn’t be the reason not to hire him.”
For Rodino-Colocino, Penn State’s upcoming football hire supersedes image and reputation. She’s taught about rape culture before and after the Sandusky scandal in her class Cultural Aspects of Media. In her opinion, the class transcends general university courses and gives students an experience that can help them deal with real life issues.
In this real world opportunity, she believes Penn State is missing the chance to stand out and make a difference.
“There’s a problem with rape culture at universities that needs to be stopped,” Rodino-Colocino said. “I would like to see Penn State lead the charge to put a stop to rape culture at college campuses.”
Mark Dent: email@example.com, 412-439-3791 and Twitter @mdent05.