My first instinct: Shrug it off, just boys being boys. Embarrassing, but no big deal. The Penn State players involved served as dupes, the victims, not as perps.

But no, those players responsible for connecting “sex scandal” and “Penn State” in headlines — again — don’t get off that easy. And neither do the adult authority figures entrusted to their care and supervision. James Franklin should be ashamed. (We’ll get back to that shortly.)

In case this latest bizarre news from Happy Valley hasn’t hit your news feed, here’s what happened:

An alleged female internet con artist started “relationships” with athletes from various colleges, including Penn State, talked said players into producing sexually explicit material and sending it to her electronically, then used the threat of sharing the material to extort them into producing more.

These events reportedly happened almost a year ago, but news of them broke just in the past couple of days. From PSU-specific outlets to various local and national ones, the story spread quickly, as such stories tend to do. Follow those links, and you’ll get to read that up to 5 Penn State student-athletes, feeling they were under duress, took explicit photos and videos within the football locker room. There was also, apparently, at least one group sex video, though it wasn’t clear where it was filmed.

From what is known so far, nothing suggests that the sexual activity on the video wasn’t consensual. The players involved were victims, guilty mostly of naivete and poor judgment.

But my gosh, in this day and age, at a school just a decade removed from a sex scandal that nearly wrecked the football program, how can these players not be better prepared? Like it or not, athletes in major revenue-producing sports aren’t ordinary students. They don’t get the anonymity that Joe Frat Boy can enjoy.

Football at Penn State comes with a spotlight, and a lot of benefits come with that spotlight. Full-ride scholarships, NIL money and the adoration of hundreds of thousands of fans are part of the package. But so too should be a sense of responsibility.

And someone should be helping them understand that.

Shame on Franklin, athletic department

Star athletes need help transitioning from high school to college, and not just on the field. They need guidance on finances, dealing with media and recognizing predators out to scam them, to name a few things. And they need to be informed that they have a responsibility, that something like this can’t happen at Penn State just a decade after the Sandusky Scandal made the Lasch Building infamous.

Obviously, such a message didn’t get delivered, or wasn’t taken seriously, and there are no excuses for that for Franklin, his underlings or his superiors.

Franklin has bargained to up his own salary and extend his contract. He’s bargained for facility upgrades. He’s bargained for more and better-paid staffers. He has the resources he needs, and should be using some of them to ensure his players don’t embarrass the program. Give them the off-the-field education they need. Make clear the expectations, and have harsh ramifications for those who don’t live up to the alma mater: “May no act of ours bring shame.”

Look, most likely this will blow over. Though the story just came out, this case is already closed in Centre County, as the PSU players opted not to pursue the matter. A federal investigation, however, is continuing.

Still, Franklin and Penn State need to retake control of the locker room. At this point, there should be supervision any time players are using a school facility. Sure, that’s an insult to the 95% of student-athletes who have good sense, but the school can’t afford any more of this type of publicity. No matter how badly Penn State’s 9th-year head coach wants any particular recruit, he can’t let 18-year-olds call all the shots. A supposed pseudo-father figure needs to provide tough love rather than coddling and carte blanche.

And this latest news isn’t a one-off. Just a few years ago, a story came out with former Nittany Lion Isaiah Humphries saying he was harassed by teammates, including star linebacker Micah Parsons. Whatever the truth of that matter, 19 players, including Humphries, transferred away from Penn State during or following the 2018 season. Just after arriving at Penn State in 2014, Franklin faced criticism about his handling of rape allegations against some of his former players at Vanderbilt.

The optics are not good

None of that has stuck to Franklin, as the legal cases never pinned any wrongdoing on him.

But Penn State should have a higher standard. That’s pretty much the selling point of the program — a history of Success with Honor that began with a Grand Experiment. Maintaining that — or at this point, restoring that — is a tall order now that money-grubbers run the cesspool that is college athletics.

No, Joe Paterno was not perfect, nor were his players choir boys. Some had issues with alcohol, others had run-ins with the law. But few fans or even critics would have suggested that he wasn’t trying to do things the right way or that his messages to his players weren’t clear.

Thinking cynically, maybe the only difference between now and then is the invention of the smartphone. But if that’s true, today’s players have to get with the times, realize what they’re up against, and adjust accordingly. And the men getting paid 6 or 7 figures to lead them need to supervise them — or at least appoint someone to patrol the various athletic facilities.

This latest “sex scandal” at Penn State shouldn’t have happened at all, because players should be smarter and better prepared than that. But if such a thing is to happen, it sure as heck should not occur in any football or athletics building on campus.

Everyone involved should be better than that.