For the better part of half a century, there have been no greater bastions in college sports than Penn State football and Syracuse basketball.

Now, in the space of a month, the foundations of both campuses and college communities have been rocked by alleged sex scandals involving assistant coaches who helped build both programs into national powerhouses, each under the tutelage of their legendary Hall of Fame coaches Joe Paterno and Jim Boeheim.

One dark thread that runs through both of these alleged child sex predator cases are the red flag indicators that were missed along the way. The question we will never know is the number of children that could have been saved from the despicable acts years earlier. As investigations continue, we will hopefully find who and why so many people in authority at both institutions apparently dropped the ball.

What is amazing to us is how both assistants Jerry Sandusky at Penn State and Bernie Fine at Syracuse were able to keep their alleged sordid secrets and fly under the radar for so long at their respective schools and in their communities. These are major schools with high profile programs that command major media coverage 24/7 nearly every day of the year.

It's apparent that some at Penn State knew of the earlier allegations against Sandusky in the year 2000 and yet, he was honored as grand marshal of the homecoming parade that year in State College. When Sandusky retired at the age of 55, his retirement party at the Bryce Jordan Center drew some 1,000 people, including many from the community. Many in the community saw Sandusky as a regular guy who was willing to help out, especially in the case of youth football programs.

When asked by reporters at his retirement from PSU what he planned do next, Sandusky said he might "coach midget leagues." At the time, that answer failed to arouse any great suspicion since his activities with youth league programs and his work with the Second Mile charity were wellknown, even earning praiseworthy attention with the national media.

The abuse allegations against Syracuse assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine, who was fired last weekend, are equally shocking to the New York state community. Fine's third accuser, Zach Tomaselli of Lewiston, Me., alleges that his abuse occurred in 2002, which may fall within state and federal statutes of limitations, whereas the abuse alleged by the first two accusers would have happened too long ago to prosecute. The release of a taped conversation Fine's wife had with one of the accusers is every bit as twisted as the release earlier this month of the 23-page indictment of charges against Sandusky at Penn State.

The fate of both college sports empires and their legendary coaches hang in the balance at both schools as investigators try to determine who knew what, and when they knew it.

It's sobering that there are likely many other victims ones not associated with big-name sports programs who remain hidden in our society. Tomaselli came forward in the Syracuse case after seeing the first two accusers make their accusations on ESPN. Unfortunately, countless other cases do not receive the scrutiny afforded to a Penn State or Syracuse.

Hopefully, as both these cases continue to unfold, other persons will become emboldened to step forward to assure that the child sex predators who still roam free are removed from society.

By Jim Zbick

jzbick@tnonline.com [1]