When I got back from breakfast, much to my surprise, there was good news waiting for me about Penn State AND the NCAA.
While the NCAA won’t admit that it overstepped its bounds to begin with, it started that process Tuesday by restoring some scholarships to Penn State that it took away as part of unwarranted sanctions in the wake of the (fact) Freeh Report’s findings regarding Penn State’s handling of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
Anyone who has actually read the entire Freeh Report (you might get 10 hands raised in a room full of 100 people) and not just the cliff notes version knows much of it relies on conjecture and speculation instead of evidence and facts. That the NCAA used Louis Freeh’s shoddy work (go ask Richard Jewell, Mohammad bin Hammam and Wen Ho Lee how credible Freeh is) to hammer Penn State with unprecedented sanctions instead of doing its own investigation was both lazy and irresponsible (also known as Mark Emmert Syndrome).
NCAA president Mark Emmert cited Penn State’s “continued progress towards ensuring athletic integrity” as one of the reasons for restoring some scholarships (Penn State will be at 75 scholarship players for 2014, 80 for 2015 and the full 85 by 2016), but that was never in question to begin with. The “culture” Freeh and Emmert alluded to when describing Penn State’s football program existed only in their minds and those of countless others who have ignored the facts of the Sandusky scandal and chose to run with a narrative that is starting to crumble.
Those who cling to that narrative will say Penn State doesn’t deserve to have its sanctions reduced. Those people are still furious the NCAA didn’t give the Nittany Lions at least a temporary death penalty if not a full execution. They’ll say Joe Paterno, along with school administrators Tim Curley, Gary Schultz and Graham Spanier, chose the reputation of the football program over the safety of children. You’ll hear how Mike McQueary’s eye-witness account of Sandusky in a shower with a boy (via a mirror for all of three seconds) on the Penn State campus was ignored. They claim a cover-up, initiated by Paterno, was carried out to protect Penn State instead of the most vulnerable of all people (nevermind that one of the prosecutors from Sanduksy’s trial said he found NO evidence of Paterno being involved AT ALL).
So if all of those are true, why is the NCAA reducing a penalty that was issued based on a report that alleged those acts? Paging Louis Freeh, you have some explaining to do. Better put on a few dozens pots of coffee … you’ll be waiting for a LOOOOOONG time to get any answers from Freeh (unless you’d like to show up at his speech in Dallas next month; after reading that release I thought calling Freeh “distinguished” was an insult to the word distinguished).
When you look at what the scholarship restoration will do for Penn State, it’s simple. It means the Nittany Lions will be able to compete at a national level, both on the field and the recruiting trail, starting in 2014. Penn State will be able to recruit 22 players for this class (quarterback Michael O’Connor and defensive linemen Antoine White both plan to enroll for the spring semester in January which means they’ll count against Penn State’s last recruiting class that brought in 13 players – four of the 17 players who signed enrolled early and counted against the previous class) instead of the NCAA mandated 15 and 25 (the amount all schools are allowed although that doesn’t seem to apply to SEC schools for some reason) for the 2014-15 season. It also will end the days of relying too heavily on walk-ons (some of whom could be given scholarships) and deciding which players are good and which ones are worthy of a scholarship offer.