The name Harvey Updike doesn't mean much in this part of the country, but below the Mason-Dixon line, where the Southeastern Conference is the nation's premier league for college football, that name evokes heated conversations about people who get so caught up in the sport that they lose their sanity.

Updike went on trial last month in an Opelika, Ala., court for allegedly poisoning two celebrated 100-year-old oak trees on the Auburn University campus after the Tigers beat his favorite team, the University of Alabama, in the 2010 edition of their annual game dubbed the Iron Bowl.

The trial was postponed on June 21 because of the difficulty of finding impartial jurors. People are serious about college football in a state where in the last three years, Alabama has won two national championships and Auburn won the one in between.

There's no comparable rivalry up north, but you can see devotion to a team just as intense among fans of the Pennsylvania State University Nittany Lions. They haven't poisoned any trees — at least, not that anyone knows of — but worse things have happened.

It's now known that administrators put protecting the reputation of the Penn State football program ahead of the need to make sure little boys visiting the campus weren't molested by a former coach who had long been suspected of perverted behavior.

That was the conclusion of former FBI Director Louis Freeh, who was asked by the Penn State Board of Trustees to conduct an independent investigation into the school's culpability following the child-sexual-abuse conviction of former PSU assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.

Freeh said there had been allegations for years of Sandusky bringing boys on campus through a charity he ran and then molesting them, but school officials who knew about the allegations, including former president Graham B. Spanier and coach Joe Paterno exhibited a "callous disregard for child victims" and did nothing.

Before he died of lung cancer in January, Paterno penned a letter in which he vehemently denied the Sandusky scandal had anything to do with football. "Penn State is not a football factory," the letter said. "During the last 45 years, no one has won more games while graduating more players."

More than anything, the letter shows just how out of touch Paterno had become. He admitted after Sandusky's arrest that he wished he had done more to protect the victims.

But he couldn't connect the dots to his more consuming compulsion to protect the Nittany Lions' reputation as the squeakiest-clean program in college football.

Perhaps that's a purer motivation than what is more typically seen when universities close their eyes to the sketchy academics and bad behavior of so-called student athletes and their coaches who are actually little more than paid performers who bring millions of dollars of revenue to their schools.

Beyond Paterno, it's hard to believe that other Penn State officials weren't afraid that news that a suspected child rapist was allowed to bathe with boys in the team showers might put a dent in football revenue. That attitude is crazy, but craziness is common in college football.

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