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Walt Moody: Settlement proves NCAA overreached in penalizing Penn State

Penn State fans sign “409” posters outside of the Student Book Store on College Avenue on Friday, October 24, 2014. The posters were in support of restoring Joe Paterno’s 409 wins.
Penn State fans sign “409” posters outside of the Student Book Store on College Avenue on Friday, October 24, 2014. The posters were in support of restoring Joe Paterno’s 409 wins. CDT photo

Joe Paterno always was a big proponent for replay in college football.

So upon further review ...

Friday’s NCAA settlement proved once again that the organization overstepped its bounds in levying the original sanctions against Penn State in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal.

The return of 112 vacated wins, 111 of which came under Paterno’s guidance, may have been the final step in proving how much the NCAA, and especially President Mark Emmert, overreached in dealing out punishment in the summer of 2012.

Already this fall, the four-year scholarship reductions — the harshest of penalties for the football program — and four-year bowl ban had been rescinded.

But with the loss of 111 victories, Paterno fell behind Florida State’s Bobby Bowden — who himself had wins stripped thanks to the NCAA — on the all-time Division I chart. Paterno’s defenders were outraged that the victories from 1998 — when Sandusky’s first alleged incident occurred — until 2011 — when the longtime coach was fired — were taken in lieu of the evidence.

Emmert’s attempt to strip away Paterno’s legacy was stupid from the start.

You can’t tell any Nittany Lion fan — or anyone else, for that matter — that those victories didn’t happen.

We saw the 1998 team win the Outback Bowl, Larry Johnson rush for 2,000-plus yards in 2002 and Michael Robinson and Paul Posluszny lead the Nittany Lions on an exciting 2005 run that culminated in an overtime win in the Orange Bowl.

You can’t erase those memories.

It’s faulty logic.

Even though their names are stripped from the Michigan record books, you can’t tell me the Fab 5 didn’t play for two NCAA titles and change the face of college basketball.

And while you can take away the Heisman, but you can’t tell anyone who saw Southern California’s Reggie Bush in 2005 that he wasn’t one of the greatest and most breathtaking running backs to ever play the game.

In the same manner, you can’t tell people that Joe Paterno wasn’t one of the greatest college football coaches. Whether he had 298 or 409 wins, he impacted the sport like few of his time.

But in the NCAA’s convoluted way of thinking, these penalties ruin legacies.

As far as Paterno’s legacy is concerned, many of his followers believe Friday’s ruling will restore his reputation and rid him of any guilt in the Sandusky scandal.

Those are pipe dreams just as big as the one that Emmert started out with after the release of the Freeh report.

In the court of public opinion, O.J. Simpson is guilty, no matter whether the gloves fit or not.

In the national court of public opinion (to those outside of the Penn State family), Paterno knowingly allowed Sandusky to remain around the university and around the children that the former Penn State defensive coordinator abused. In their minds, his silence allowed a predator to thrive.

As much as his family and minions want that black mark to go away, it’s hard to change that perception — whether it’s true or not.

Finding a new home for his statue isn’t going to change that, either.

And none of it will soothe the devastating hurt of the victims and their families.

So while we’re talking perception, the NCAA has firmly placed itself among one of the most inept organizations around.

Even after after hoisting the white flag Friday, the NCAA wouldn’t admit that it had surrendered.

“We are not at all admitting that we didn’t have the authority to impose the penalties,” Emmert said.

Yet, nearly all of those penalties have disappeared before they reached the terms that were set.

Only the money penalty remains and thanks to Friday’s settlement it will be spent in Pennsylvania, where it should have been going from the start.

Other NCAA officials said the sanctions served their purpose in improving the climate at Penn State.

Really?

Certainly there’s more awareness of sexual abuse on campus and there’s plenty of public service announcements. Just look anywhere with a scoreboard capable of playing them and you’ll see one.

But football holds the same importance here as it did before everything hit the fan.

Take a look at those parking lots on Saturday afternoons in the fall and you see it.

Take a look at the bottom line in the athletic department and you’ll see how many other sports owe their existence to football program.

That’s not changing.

If anything, maybe Friday’s settlement will curb some of the angst — at least for a while until former president Graham Spanier, former athletic director Tim Curley and former senior vice president Gary Schultz go on trial for several charges related to the scandal. When those three finally go to trial is anyone’s guess.

At least that will be a verdict the NCAA can’t lose.

No, the only people that were really hurt by Emmert’s sanctions were the ones who had nothing to do with any of Sandusky’s actions — Penn State’s players from 2012 to 2014. Those players showed remarkable character and perseverance in the wake of the penalties. They gutted it out on the field and never had a losing season.

No replay will turn back time for them.

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