Ask the Sportswriters

Following are opinions from Mille Lacs County Times  editor-sports editor Gary Larson, reporter Luther Dorr and former Times intern Logan Marxhausen. Note: This feature is written on Monday each week.

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•Question:  The Minnesota Vikings open camp today (Thursday) in Mankato. In order, what three areas of the team will you be following closest during training camp?

-Dorr: You’re kidding me – football already? I suppose the main order of business will be to see if Adrian Peterson’s knee is ready. Second will be to see if Christian Ponder is ready to emerge as the quarterback the Vikings hope he will be. And, is the No. 1 draft choice, Matt Kalil, ready to step in and be a starter at left tackle? Fourth, if you care, is to keep everyone off the police blotter for a few weeks.

-Marxhausen: The first spot that I would want to play close attention to is the offensive line. The play has to start with a strong push on the offensive line and with a young line, they need to get all the fundamentals down so they don’t run into problems during the season. The second spot goes to the second person who touches the ball during a play and that is the quarterback. No one in the league is as confused as the Vikings about what to do with the quarterback position and how to approach this season. Christian Ponder is getting another shot, with Sage Rosenfels and Joe Webb looking to come off the bench and make an impact. As far as I see it, all three of these quarterbacks will see significant playing time this season. The third area to look at closely at is the wide receiver position. Usually, I would like to follow Adrian Peterson to make sure he is running at his purest during training camp, but I feel there are more questions surrounding the receiving core and if it can make an impact with the current quarterback. Hopefully, some of the rookies will step up and stand out.

-Larson:  I like Luther’s fourth choice. In order, I’ll be watching the defensive secondary, the offensive line and the wide receivers. I think Adrian Peterson will be playing in the opener against Jacksonville and I think Christian Ponder will be more than adequate at quarterback and will improve on his rookie season. Not much will matter if the secondary can’t stop the big play, the offensive line can’t protect Ponder and open holes for Peterson or the wide receivers can’t take pressure off Percy Harvin. Sad to say, though, that even if all these areas improve, the Vikings are in for a long season.

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•Question:  The 2012 Summer Olympics begin this weekend in London In order, what three events do you enjoy watching the most? (Note: Combine men’s and women’s swimming, for example, as one event, swimming. Same for all the events.)

-Dorr: It’s not even close for me. Track and field has always been the glamour event of the Summer Games and it’ll be no different this time around. And with a couple Minnesotans in the mix, it’ll be even more interesting. Swimming has been a favorite in the past and I’ve usually had to work hard to find time to watch basketball. But basketball, because of local ties, may move ahead of swimming this time. And tennis might edge one of those sports out. Boxing used to be second for me but now I don’t watch it at all.

-Marxhausen:  No. 3 is tennis, which is fun to watch even though they play almost all year anyway. Singles are fun to watch, especially with some of the better players advancing to face each other, but also the doubles aspect is very intense to watch. No. 2 is swimming because the only time I get to watch competitive swimming at its highest peak is during the Olympics. Swimming has tournaments and championships during a normal calendar year, but it is not emphasized like it is during the Olympics. To see the competitiveness amongst swimmers before and after the race is interesting because there is a lot of emotion involved at both times. No. 1 is my favorite sport to watch already, and that is basketball. Not only do you get to watch the likes of LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and other superstars play together, but you get to watch them take on tough competition that doesn’t necessarily contain other NBA players.

-Larson:  Track and field ranks No. 1, with gymnastics No. 2 and swimming No. 3, a shade ahead of basketball. Viewing is enhanced by the great camera angles. Coverage leading up to the Olympics has been great and allows us to be familiar with the athletes we’ll by watching. It puzzles me that baseball and softball were dropped as Olympic events, yet there are events like BMX racing.

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•Question:  The NCAA and Big Ten Conference came down heavily on Penn State University Monday following the child sex abuse scandal at the school. The NCAA fined the school $60 million, banned the football team from competing in a bowl game for four years, cut the number of football scholarships it will be able to offer for the next four seasons and placed the school on probation for five years. The $60 million will go toward a fund for victims of sex abuse. The Big Ten issued a ban from conference championship games for four years. What are your thoughts on the penalties?

-Dorr: I’ve thought all along that taking football away completely would be wrong because it would penalize the players there now, players that had nothing to do with what went on with Jerry Sandusky and Joe Paterno. The penalties seem harsh but when you consider what went on, especially the cover-ups by Paterno and the school’s president that have come to light, maybe those penalties are deserved. And it’s likely the school will be facing costly civil suits for years to come. There will be lots of people at Penn State jumping ship.

-Marxhausen: These penalties set down by the NCAA completely make sense at the end of the spectrum. Penn State not only disgraced the reputation that is Penn State football, but also hurt the reputations of the Big Ten Conference and the NCAA. The “death penalty” would have been too harsh and I was glad it was not implemented because of the wealth of history they have in collegiate football. The next four seasons will be tough and the subsequent seasons after that could be hard to bounce back from after losing pace with some competitors.

 

-Larson:  Apparently, the NCAA can pretty much do what it wants. It’s surprising it acted on the basis of the recent Freeh Report instead of forming a half dozen committees of its own. The $60 million fine was justified, although let’s hope someone is monitoring where that money goes. The other penalties are flogging people who had nothing to do with the scandal, but the NCAA has a long history of doing that. I guess the Big Ten needed to jump on board, too. Again, the wrong people are being flogged.

Many are saying it’s going to take Penn State’s football program five to 10 years to recover from the sanctions (probably what its Big Ten rivals are hoping). Hogwash. Two words – Southern Cal. The Trojans, penalized for the Reggie Bush incident, were sanctioned with a ban on bowl games for two seasons and a loss of 30 scholarships over three seasons. The bowl game ban ended last season. And, guess what? Southern Cal, following two great recruiting years, is ranked in the top five (No. 1 by some) in most 2012 pre-season polls and projected by many to gain the newly established four-team playoff to determine a national champion. Those who predicted a long recovery period for Southern Cal were dead wrong, as are those predicting Penn State will stumble for a long time. Penn State coaches,  former players and the 100,00-plus fans who fill Beaver Stadium at each home game will work tirelessly to see the program remains solid.

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•Question:  The NCAA also said Penn State’s victories from 1998 through 2011 will be vacated and coach Joe Paterno’s record will reflect the vacated victories. He will no longer be recognized as the NCAA’s all-time Division I winningest coach. Paterno won 409 games in 46 seasons as Penn State coach and the 111 vacated victories will drop his record to 298. Penn State also removed a statue of the Paterno from the campus. Paterno died Jan. 22 at the age of 85. Are the actions against Paterno too severe or not severe enough?

-Dorr: Paterno liked portraying himself, and Penn State, as doing things the right way. They obviously didn’t, a new source telling us that Paterno, who already had done quite well financially at Penn State, was negotiating last year for a settlement as he rode off into retirement. I don’t know if the actions against Paterno are too severe or not severe enough, and I’ve always thought vacating victories was kind of a silly thing. But it’s for sure that everyone’s opinion of him – even those closest to him, and in the inner circle at Penn State and around the country – are drastically changed. He simply didn’t do the right thing.

-Marxhausen: Well this is a sore way for Bobby Bowden of Florida State to become the new winningest coach of all time for NCAA Division I football programs. I don’t see how they can just erase history from the record books like it never happened. Those wins were fought with the blood, sweat and tears from some very hard-working young men and to say that Paterno doesn’t deserve those wins means those players don’t as well. The statue of Paterno could have been the speculation of division for the school for many years to come, so bringing it down was not a huge issue. But, to vacate victories seems too severe.

-Larson:  Unofficially, Paterno will remain No. 1 on the Division I list and Bowden No. 2. That’s how college football fans will look at it, regardless of what the NCAA record book says. If someone passes Bobby Bowden, the reaction will be, “that’s great but Joe Paterno had 409. Until someone reaches 410 Paterno will be regarded as No. 1, and that may not ever happen.

Paterno made two mistakes. The huge, tragic one was to not step in immediately and get rid of Jerry Sandusky when he first became aware of the child molestation allegations. We wouldn’t now be reading and talking about this tragedy and many kids would’ve been spared the pain of abuse if Paterno had acted. His second mistake was not saying to himself “this thing could ruin my whole career and I’m not going to let a pervert tarnish what I’ve accomplished.”

Removing the statue of Paterno was the right thing to do.

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Do you have an opinion on any of this week’s questions? Do you agree or disagree with the sportswriters? Let us know by sending an e-mail to editor.millelacscotimes@ecm-inc.com or a note to Mille Lacs County Times, 225 S.W. 2nd St. Milaca, MN 56353. Or comment online.

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