Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Guru's Musings: Penn State Scandal Recalls Women's Basketball Controversy

(Guru’s note: There is another post under this covering several preseason games of the past week. If you are in melgreenberg.com, then click Mel’s Blog on the left side of the screen to get to blogspot and the full archive.)

By Mel Greenberg

For the second time in six years, although far more severe, the Penn State athletic department is attracting national attention out of here for a major controversy, though the current one may well become the worst scandal in collegiate sports history.

Former football assistant Jerry Sandusky, who served under the legendary and current head coach Joe Paterno, has been charged by the state attorney general’s office with 40 counts of sexually abusing minors as a result of a two-year investigation by a grand jury.

Additionally, two school officials have been charged with covering up Sandusky’s actions.

The findings were announced Saturday. A little over 24 hours later on Sunday night university senior vice president Gary Schultz stepped down back into retirement while athletic director Tim Curley took a leave of absence to focus on defense of the charges. Their actions followed an emergency executive meeting of the Penn State board of trustees.

The last time Penn State fell under national scrutiny was in 2005 when a women’s basketball player accused longtime Lady Lions coach Rene (Muth) Portland of sexual discrimination, running the player off the team for being perceived as a lesbian.

The player, Jen Harris, brought a federal suit against Portland, who eventually resigned at the end of the 2007 season. Harris transferred to James Madison, though she never played for the Duchesses, who have won the last two Colonial Athletic Conference tournaments.

The uproar involving the women’s team began almost immediately after Penn State was upset by Liberty in the first round of the NCAA tournament in March 2005 and rumors surfaced of players either leaving or being kicked off the team.

Portland, who was 606-236 in her 27 seasons in Happy Valley, is a former star of the Immaculata championship era in the 1970s. She did not attend last month’s red carpet premier in Philadelphia of the Mighty Macs movie, though former teammates did leave messages inviting her.

Another movie, Training Rules, was produced in 2009 about Portland’s team policies and has since become available as a DVD.

Portland is a native of Broomall, Pa., outside Philadelphia. Soon after her exit from Penn State, she moved to Bloomington, Ind.

Nearing the end of a five-year gag order that was part of the “amicable” settlement in the Harris case, Portland could not be reached for comment on the latest Penn State controversy in the athletic department.

In 2006, in the wake of the Harris lawsuit, an internal investigation by Penn State of allegations against Portland resulted in findings against her. A written reprimand, a $10,000 fine and a warning to cease a pattern of sexual discriminatory behavior or risk being fired, among other rulings, accompanied them.

On the same day, however, Portland responded to the results of the investigation at her own press conference on April 18, calling the university findings “flawed,” and she would return the next season.

The Harris charges in the fall of 2005 were followed by Portland’s first losing record since coming from Colorado when Paterno, then also the athletic director, hired her in 1980.

The Lady Lions also suffered another losing record in 206-07 under Portland, who then suddenly announced her resignation in March.

A month later former Notre Dame star and associate head coach Coquese Washington was hired and just now the Lady Lions are returning to the prominence under Portland when Penn State was winning Atlantic 10 and, after the switch, Big 10 titles as well as being a longtime resident in the weekly Associated Press women’s basketball rankings.

Allegations first surfaced against Portland and her policies in 1991 and the university responded saying she had been made aware of the school’s stand against any kind of discrimination.

Despite the announced resignation in 2007, several sources later said Curley and Penn State president Graham Spanier had forced Portland out.

Spanier, in a statement Saturday, expressed full support of the Penn State officials charged with a cover up in the Sandusky case. He has come under criticism in the nation’s press for his response as well as the school not acting quick enough when an eyewitness first reported Sandusky’s actions.

Those who followed the Portland controversy at the time, in light of the current Sandusky allegations, have privately mused over the irony, if true, that some university officials involved in Portland’s ouster, motivated to either bring about justice or potential retribution against her, had themselves years earlier taken action to protect Sandusky.

After the end of the Portland era, the Lady Lions suffered through two more losing records before returning to postseason participation with a WNIT appearance in 2010.

Last spring they were chosen as an at-large team for the NCAA tournament, participating for the first time since the loss to Liberty in 2005.

Penn State advanced at home to the second round before squandering a sizeable lead to DePaul to miss gaining an upset and move to the Sweet 16 at Temple University in Philadelphia.

The Lady Lions finished at 25-10, their best record since the 28-6 finish in 2004 when scoring sensation Kelly Mazzante was a senior.

Now they are expected to build on that performance with a preseason pick of 12th in the Associated Press women’s poll as well as the choice of media and conference coaches to win the Big Ten. Senior Alex Bentley has named the preseason Big Ten player of the year.

The Sandusky news broke Saturday from beyond the Bryce Jordan Center where the men’s and women’s teams played an exhibition doubleheader with the women’s game going first.

Washington declined to comment at the postgame press conference following the win over Division II Bloomsburg when asked about the news and its effect on Penn State’s image.

-- Mel


Blogger Scamp said...

...Portland did indeed tell the Chicago Sun-Times in 1986 that she didn't allow lesbians to play on her team. ...


Mel, I still recall reading that article in a Seattle newspaper in 1986 and being elated when Penn State got knocked out of the NCAA tournament.

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