What will George Mitchell say?
For many that follow Penn State football, or just the politics surrounding the university’s struggles after the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, that is the question hanging in the air. Another question usually follows: When will he say it?
Mitchell is the former U.S. senator appointed by the NCAA to a five-year stint as an independent monitor overseeing the university’s athletics integrity agreement. He was given that role in 2012 after the NCAA’s sanctions were handed down.
That post-Sandusky punishment levied a $60 million fine, banning bowl appearances for four years, stripping away 13 years’ worth of Nittany Lion football wins and reducing the number of football scholarships allowed.
Mitchell issued his first annual report one year ago this week, pointing to significant progress by Penn State in almost all of the 119 areas outlined for change in the Freeh report commissioned by the university.
One of Mitchell’s concerns moving into year two was to maintain the momentum of the progress, but even there, he seemed confident.
“By all indications thus far, the university has positioned itself well to meet this challenge,” the report stated.
For many in the university community, anticipation for the 2014 version of the report is high. They also eagerly await any potential changes the report could bring.
Three weeks after last year’s report was released, the NCAA announced it was accepting Mitchell’s recommendation to restore five scholarships per year from those docked as part of the consent decree.
With the new report days, possibly hours, away, what are people really hoping to hear?
Penn State’s administration will not speculate.
“In the past, Sen. Mitchell has provided the report to counsel to the (u)niversity, counsel to the NCAA and counsel to the Big Ten Conference on a confidential basis a few hours in advance of its public release,” the university said in a statement. “We expect that Sen. Mitchell’s second annual report will be issued soon, although the date of that report has not been set in stone — and is at the discretion of the senator’s team. We will not speculate on the contents of the report, nor on the action the (u)niversity might take in response.”
At least one member of the board of trustees, however, was open about what he wants to hear. Anthony Lubrano “fully expects” another glowing report and to see more of the sanctions scaled back.
“Anything less will be a disappointment,” he said.
Franco Harris, the former Penn State stadnout and NFL Hall of Famer who has been resolute in his support of longtime coach Joe Paterno, is just as hopeful.
“There is no doubt, that would be great,” he told the Centre Daily Times on Thursday. “Getting scholarships back, lifting the bowl sanctions, absolutely, that would be fantastic.”
Even far afield from Penn State, the sanctions have been a topic of conversation this week. Former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, Paterno’s longtime friend and adversary who inherited the title of winningest coach when 111 wins were erased, said on the radio sports talk program “The David Glenn Show” on Wednesday that he would like to see Paterno’s record restored.
But the average fans, the students that swell the stadium every game, are just as hopeful, and want the report to reflect how much has changed in the past two years.
“We have had two full cycles of change,” said Brian Sanvido, a fifth year senior and the president of Nittanyville, the student tent camp outside Beaver Stadium.
For him, the issue of moving forward doesn’t start by looking back and wondering who knew what under Paterno’s coaching tenure, with Tim Curley as athletic director and Graham Spanier in the president’s office. Since then, Penn State has had two presidents, two athletic directors and two head coaches.
“I don’t think you can look at our program without seeing how we have changed drastically,” Sanvido said.
And what does he want?
“I want to go to a bowl game,” he said. “That’s a personal hope for me.”