There has been talk recently within the NCAA of holding teams accountable – via scholarship allotment or postseason eligibility – for their graduation rates. Discussion is still in its preliminary stages, but it comes as a response to plummeting graduation rates in many Division I football programs as many of those teams disregard academics for the sake of athletics. Yesterday, Penn State coach Joe Paterno, who has been coaching in Division I for more than half a century, weighed in on the issue.

“Obviously it would help us because we’ve been pretty good with our graduation rates,” Paterno said. “The thing you have to be careful about is, it depends on how they evaluate graduation rates. Sometimes kids transfer for good reasons, and that counts against a school which has made an honest effort to do a good job with him academically. That should not be held against a coach or a school. There’s some very sophisticated implications that I think have to be worked out. I think they have to be careful how they go about doing it.

“Their intention is good. We are here to do everything we can to see that a kid has an opportunity to graduate as well as play good football. If we’re doing some things that deprive the kid of that kind of opportunity in order to win a couple extra games, I think we should be penalized.”

Hawkeyesman: In this, the most debatable and wide-open Heisman Trophy race in recent memory, it comes as no surprise that Iowa quarterback Brad Banks’ consideration is growing from a whisper to a roar. Banks leads the Big Ten in passing, having thrown for 2,269 yards and 23 touchdowns. His quarterback rating of 167.8 is second only to San Diego’s Eric Rasmussen among Division I-A quarterbacks.

This week, Banks was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week for the third time this season. Banks set a Big Ten record, connecting on all 10 of his pass attempts for 197 yards and three touchdowns. Banks moved the chains via the ground game as well, rushing for 54 yards on five carries and notching another two touchdowns.

Banks and the Hawkeyes are fighting with Ohio State for the Big Ten title, but the two teams do not play each other this season. Ohio State coach Jim Tressel expressed relief.

“We have Brad Banks on film,” Tressel said. “We’ve played some teams after Iowa has played them, and he’s an amazing guy. He can throw the football. He can run the football. He gets Iowa in and out of the plays they need to be in and out of. They’re a well-oiled machine.”

Michigan Statement: After Michigan State coach Bobby Williams was fired last week, there was question as to how his Spartans would respond to new interim coach Morris Watts. Question no more. The boys from East Lansing put up not one, not two, but 56 points against Indiana, and made their new interim coach pleased as punch.

“I’d just like to say how pleased I was at how our football team reacted to the adversity that faced them all last week,” Watts said. “They were able to channel their emotions and maintain their focus through the game, especially in the second quarter – where we put up 35 points and dominated on defense.”

Meanwhile, quarterback Jeff Smoker, who left the Spartans three weeks ago to seek substance abuse treatment, is preparing to confront the media in the near future.

“Jeff is back in town,” Watts said. “I think in a short time he will be coming out with a statement to the news media. He is looking forward to his future, and is looking forward to dealing with the media … He will not play the rest of the year. That’s official.”

Hang ’em High: Paterno makes no secrets about his disappointment with Big Ten officiating this season. In what is thought to be a prank, an effigy of a referee was found hanging from Paterno’s home in State College on Sunday. Paterno released no statement immediately following the incident, but made a quick remark yesterday on the issue.

“I don’t even want to get into that for crying out loud,” Paterno said. “The whole thing is ludicrous.”

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