Penn State Football

Walt Moody: Vindication bell ringing loud for Nittany Lions

Listen real hard.

Yeah, we know it was a Monday afternoon, but you could probably hear at least a little something.

The Victory Bell was ringing — at least metaphorically.

Clang. Clang.

Nah, “victory” doesn’t seem like the appropriate term in this contest.

How about the “Vindication Bell?”

For many Penn State fans, players, coaches, students, alumni and administrators, Monday provided some sweet sounds.

Following the release of George Mitchell’s second report on Penn State’s compliance with sanctions levied by the NCAA in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal, the NCAA dropped two of the toughest aimed at the football program.

Gone immediately is the four-year bowl ban that was to have lasted through the end of next season.

Erased are scholarship reductions, restoring Penn State to the full 85 starting for the 2015-16 season.

The news was met throughout the state, across Twitter and especially in the Penn State locker room with the resounding joy of a Christian Hackenberg game-winning touchdown pass.

It felt that good because the ramifications affect not only this season, but future to come, and it came from the NCAA, which many felt overstepped its bounds in July 2012.

This time the NCAA (in a sense) complied with a recommendation from Mitchell, who has lauded the school’s overall response.

“I believe these student-athletes should have the opportunity to play in the postseason should they earn it on the field this year,” the former Senator and Secretary of State wrote. “The maximum number of student-athletes ought to be given the chance both to receive a quality education and be active in sports.”

And they did.

Let’s face it. None of this has quite worked out how NCAA president Mark Emmert had hoped back in that summer.

And Mitchell’s report gave the organization a chance to save some face without admitting it was wrong.

Maybe it was the holier-than-thou attitude of the university or maybe it was the details in the Freeh Report, but the NCAA was out for blood in 2012.

The original sanctions seemed designed to bury the program without giving Penn State the actual death penalty.

The bowl ban would help keep good players away. The reduction in scholarships (below the level of Football Championship Subdivision teams) would make sure Penn State was a second division team.

Throw in allowing players to transfer without having to sit out a season for the first year of the sanctions and the Nittany Lions were supposed to self-destruct and fall to the bottom of the Big Ten.

We all expected it, but that didn’t happen at all.

Penn State had hired Coach Bill O’Brien, who aided by some outstanding seniors like Michael Mauti and Michael Zordich, we’re able to keep all but a handful of players from defecting.

O’Brien, his staff and even recruits like Adam Breneman, were able to keep all but a few commitments in the fold.

Walk-ons joined the program instead of heading other places where they could have received some scholarship money.

O’Brien also put two winning teams on the field, going 8-4 and 7-5 before he jumped to the NFL.

James Franklin has landed even more highly touted recruits since he was named head coach and currently has the team 2-0 in his first season.

Look at those numbers: 17-9.

Sanctions don’t seem to be working too well.

How about these numbers: In the 26 games prior to the sanctions, Penn State was 16-10.

No, about the only thing football related that the NCAA ended up hurting was the players on the 2012 and 2013 teams, who had nothing to do with Sandusky or his heinous crimes. The players unfortunately happened to be at Penn State at the wrong time.

The legal system took care of Sandusky and other administrators still will have their days in court. None of them are employed by the university anymore.

It was the players who served the NCAA’s penalty.

Still, they stuck it out when they could have said, “Sayonara.” And now a few special seniors who were in the maelstrom that surrounded Joe Paterno’s dismissal and the sanctions have an opportunity to play for something more than a winning record.

By having the bowl restrictions removed, Penn State became eligible to play in the Big Ten title game if the Nittany Lions can secure the top spot in the East Division. However unlikely it might seem, they now have a shot to make the four-team tournament for a national championship.

In either case, it would require a lot more than we’ve seen on the field so far, but the opportunity is there.

But given the schedule and the weakness of the Big Ten so far, it seems far-fetched that the Nittany Lions would not win at least four of the next 10 games to become bowl eligible. That will bring Franklin valuable postseason practice time.

Mitchell made no recommendations about cutting two sanctions. The $60 million fine stands as well as the loss of 112 wins between 1998 and 2011.

The fine was the sanction that made the most sense and will continue to penalize the school.

And as much as many Penn State fans believe Paterno was shafted, don’t expect the NCAA to restore the victories that were taken away from him.

Nittany Nation is going to have to settle for Monday’s “vindication.”

And the possibility of a brighter football future.

Clang. Clang.

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