Column: Conspiracy theories about football unhealthy for fans

By Adam Bittner

LINCOLN, Neb. — Well, it looks like Penn State got hosed.

The replays and slow-motion cameras appear to show that tight end Matt Lehman scored a go-ahead touchdown before his controversial fumble in the Nittany Lions’ 32-23 loss at Nebraska on Saturday.

The refs didn’t see it that way, though. Instead, Lehman’s turnover stood.

Almost instantly, our @psufootblog Twitter account was flooded with angry comments about the call. They included speculation that the officials’ ruling was part of a broader conspiracy against Penn State, a result of the tumult that has shaken Happy Valley in the last year.

Quarterback Matt McGloin didn’t help matters with his post-game comments.

“I know we’re not going to get that call here. We’re not going to get that call ever, actually, against any team,” McGloin said. “It doesn’t matter who the refs are. We’ll never get that call.”


Look, McGloin, his teammates, the coaching staff and the fans all have a beef, especially because it wasn’t just a bad call on the field at game speed. That’d be one thing. The fact that officials could look at the same replays the world did and conclude there was not indisputable video evidence of a score has to be very frustrating.

But to suggest there was funny business afoot takes things off the tracks. Yes, there have been times in the last year that Penn State has been dealt a bad hand in the fallout of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse case, and it’s felt like it’s the university against the world.

But not everything is part of a conspiracy. I can’t believe I even have to write that.

This bunker mentality that some factions of the fanbase have dug themselves into isn’t healthy for the community, first and foremost. If the program’s supporters continue to let things like this ruin their enjoyment of what was a classic battle on the Plains, it’s going to be a long, painful slog through the NCAA’s sanctions for them.

It also looks really bad from the outside. Every time fans play the “victim” card over trivial things like a bad call on the football field, it cheapens the true suffering of those Sandusky abused.

Of course, few, if any fans, would actually equate these things. They just don’t want to see Penn State get a raw deal. But if the last year has shown us anything, it’s that messages can and will be misconstrued by Penn State’s critics to make it look bad.

Big Ten referees made plenty of ball calls against Penn State before last fall, and they’ll probably continue to moving forward, not because they’re conspiring, but because they’re lousy.

Players and fans will probably feel a lot better if they shake off the paranoia and accept that, rather than chasing screaming bloody murder.

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