BOSTON (Reuters) - Penn State's football team will end a winning season this weekend but the university's sex abuse scandal could make the Nittany Lions a pariah at the postseason college football bowl party.
With nine wins and only two losses going into the final game of the season against Wisconsin, Penn State would be poised in a normal year for an invitation to a lucrative, high-profile bowl game.
But former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was charged this month with sexually abusing eight boys in a 15-year period, including incidents before and after his retirement from the team in 1999, and some within the team's training complex.
Joe Paterno, 84, the most successful coach in major college football, was fired for failing to tell police about allegations of abuse by Sandusky in the football locker rooms.
Acting head coach Tom Bradley said this week that he doubted the team would be kept out of a postseason game.
"Our administration has assured us ... that's not the case," he said.
More likely, according to some college football prognosticators, is that Penn State could be passed over by the major bowls and end up in the postseason minor leagues.
Stewart Mandel, a college football analyst with the Sports Illustrated website SI.com, said Penn State could fall all the way to the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Houston, which pays out to the participants' league only about half the money of top bowls.
"Bowl committees will likely steer clear of Penn State in the wake of its ongoing scandal," he wrote. "Yes, their fans will travel, but it won't be worth the week of negative publicity."
Bowl invitations will be announced on December 4 and executives of top bowls are being careful not to disparage Penn State publicly.
"Never in my 15 years have I seen or even heard of anything like this (Penn State scandal)," said Steve Hogan, CEO of Florida Citrus Sports, which sponsors the Capital One Bowl in Orlando on New Year's Day. He said he hoped the scandal would not end up hurting the players who had nothing to do with it.
Penn State could save itself the suspense by beating Wisconsin on Saturday and then winning the Big Ten championship game. This would guarantee the team a spot in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, the oldest bowl game in the nation.
But the Nittany Lions start as an underdog against Wisconsin, according to bookmakers. If the team loses, Penn State's postseason fate is out of the team's hands.
One bowl executive hinted recently at how he might view Penn State. Richard Catlett, chief executive of the Gator Bowl, told The Florida Times-Union newspaper that the Gator Bowl historically shied away from teams that have fired coaches or had coaches resign under less than favorable circumstances.
"Fans in those situations tend not to be very enthusiastic about buying tickets," Catlett was quoted as saying.