Three years after the NCAA hammer, Penn State still alive and well

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Three summers ago Penn State’s football program was thought to be wiped as much from existence as a program can get this side of the SMU death penalty. The NCAA dropped a three-ton anvil on the program following the release of the Freeh Report related to the university’s handling of former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky and his sickening crimes against children both on and off campus; a $60 million fine, a four-year postseason ban, 112 victories vacated, a loss of scholarships ultimately limiting the program to 65 available scholarships instead of the NCAA limit of 85, five years of probation and the possibility of further NCAA investigations following criminal proceedings related to Penn State officials. A lot has changed since that July morning in 2012. Through it all, Penn State has managed to not only survive but also find a path moving forward with great promise.

NCAA president Mark Emmert suggested Penn State had a culture problem on its hands, where the football way of life trumped all other facets of the university. Some applauded Emmert and the NCAA for going all in on Penn State. Others believed the NCAA should have gone further. Others felt it was too harsh a punishment or the NCAA had no jurisdiction on the Penn State shortcomings. Everyone had a side on this subject, and many have stuck to those opinions over the years. Whatever your opinion was at the time, things looked bleak for the future of Penn State football.

The NCAA assigned former Senator George Mitchell to monitor and keep tabs on Penn State by way of an annual progress report. Through Mitchell’s reports, the NCAA saw fit to cut back on some of the sanctions dropped on the program. First the NCAA handed back a handful of scholarships. It later lifted all scholarship restrictions as well as the final two years of the postseason ban. Finally, the program was relieved of all NCAA sanction terms earlier this year with all vacated wins going back on the books, although Penn State remained committed to fulfilling its intent to pay off the $60 million fine, with that money being put to good use to promote the awareness of child and sexual abuse in Pennsylvania.

New head coach Bill O’Brien, the former offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots, served admirably in his role as head coach and should someday be recognized for the job he did in his two years in State College. O’Brien took over a program some deemed toxic and was soon hampered even more with the sanctions. O’Brien could have whined about the situation left and right, but instead he kept the program moving forward with whatever players chose to stay with him. Yes, some players took advantage fo a free transfer opportunity from the sanctions (most notably running back Silas Redd to USC), and some recruits opted to go elsewhere. O’Brien worked with what he had, and decided to fight for the players who remained committed. Names were placed on the jerseys to recognize those who stayed. Some schools say those who stay will be champions. Penn State’s 2012 squad may not have won a championship, but it was honored on the inside of Beaver Stadium alongside past memorable teams like the Big Ten champions of 2005 and 2008, the undefeated 1994 team and the national championship squads of the 1980s. Penn State’s 2012 team had a championship mentality and personality.

O’Brien left after two years at Penn State to become the head coach of the NFL’s Houston Texans. O’Brien always seemed like a coach looking for an NFL opportunity, and few begrudge him for leaving the program when he did. This is because he made sure the program would be as ready to take the next steps forward as possible under grave circumstances. Penn State hired Vanderbilt’s James Franklin, who is now in the midst of doing just that with a full allotment of scholarships and no sanctions to work around. Depth is rebuilding, and the pride in the program remains. It may even be stronger than ever before, as the football program has ironically played a role in bringing the community together in a new way. This season Penn State will strip the names off the jerseys in another show of moving forward while embracing the tradition of the program.

Penn State’s football program may very well have been the product of a football culture gone overboard to some degree, but it also plays a role in the rebuilding the faith of a fractured community. There is still work to be done in State College, Pennsylvania and the pains suffered by the victims of Sandusky may never heal, but the football program can serve as an outlet to promote awareness of child and sexual abuse in the community. Lessons can be learned from the Penn State saga, and ultimately that is more valuable than any win experienced on the field.

New Joe Paterno-themed beer will be the beer of choice at Penn State tailgate parties

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You read that correctly. There is going to be a beer brewed in honor of the late Penn State football coach, Joe Paterno. His son, Jay Paterno, has started a business relationship with brewing industry veteran Mark Dudash to begin brewing Paterno Legacy Series beer, according to The Pittsburgh Tribune.

The premium American lager will be available in 12-ounce cans from the Latrobe City Brewing Co. and should be available in time for football season, naturally. So start expecting to see The Paterno Legacy Series beer at tailgate parties all around Beaver Stadium this fall. It will surely be a necessity for many tailgaters in Happy Valley.

The selection of the Latrobe brewery was not a coincidence. Latrobe is where Paterno’s wife, Sue Paterno, is from and where the Paternos were married. It is also a local brewery, which helps keep jobs in-state. In addition, a portion of the proceeds will be donated to a foundation or charity of Sue Paterno’s choosing. As noted by The Pittsburgh Tribune, the Paternos have always been leaders in supporting the Special Olympics and have taken up a more active role in promoting child sexual abuse awareness in light of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

NCAA once again defends itself in handling of Penn State sanctions

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The NCAA may have rescinded the sanctions levied on Penn State three summers ago, but it continues to defend the way it responded to the Jerry Sandusky scandal in State College. In court documents filed Wednesday in the Paterno family lawsuit, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports the NCAA says the Sandusky scandal “fell squarely within” its authority and stated the crimes involved showed “a profound lack of institutional integrity and institutional control.”

The NCAA is standing by the findings of the Louis Freeh Report, which was adopted by the NCAA in place of its own investigation of Penn State. The NCAA has claimed time and time again the findings in the Freeh Report were more thorough and concise than any investigation the NCAA would have been capable of putting together, although the integrity of Freeh himself has come under scrutiny on multiple occasions as well.

In April NCAA President Mark Emmert admitted he could have handled the Penn State situation a little differently, but he has also defending the NCAA’s involvement and need to respond to everything that occurred on Penn State’s campus and around the football program.

The NCAA slammed Penn State with a four-year postseason ban, a significant reduction in scholarships, a hefty $60 million fine and vacated 112 wins of which 11 were credited to the late Joe Paterno. Those sanctions were handed down in the summer of 2012, following the publication and release of the Louis Freeh Report. Since issuing the sanctions, the NCAA partially restored scholarships following positive annual reviews from George Mitchell. Last September the NCAA lifted the final two years of the postseason ban, allowing Penn State the opportunity to play in the Pinstripe Bowl last December. In January the NCAA lifted the remainder of the sanction terms and restored all vacated victories, although an agreement was made for Penn State to continue paying off the $60 million to go toward child abuse awareness.

Sandusky was found guilty of 45 counts related to child sexual abuse and is serving 30-60 years in prison.

PA lawmaker wants to name bridge after Joe Paterno

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Get your hot takes ready, America. Pennsylvania representative Michael Regan is preparing to introduce a state bill that would name a bridge after former Penn State head coach Joe Paterno. This led PennLive to ask whether it is safe to start naming things after Paterno. Proceed with caution.

The answer to that question will undoubtedly depend on a few things. First, are you a student or alumnus of Penn State? If so, you will probably say yes. Are you a fan of Penn State but did not go to Penn State? Again, your answer will likely be yes. Do you actively root against Penn State when given the opportunity to choose sides? If you said yes, then your answer will probably be no.

Any time the subject of Joe Paterno and his legacy come up, it remains a bit of a touchy subject given his connection to the unfortunate and disturbing Jerry Sandusky scandal we learned about four years ago. And that is the key. That tale unfolded four years ago this November. Has time healed enough wounds?

As far as strictly football is concerned, the NCAA has thought so. The NCAA lifted all parts of the sanctions dropped on Penn State’s program, including the restoration of 111 vacated wins from Paterno’s career win total, once again making him Division 1 football’s all-time wins leader with 409 career victories.

Per the PennLive report, Rep. Regan wants to rename a bridge on the Pennsylvania Turnpike over the Susquehanna River as the Joseph V. Paterno Memorial Bridge. The bill would need to be passed by Pennsylvania’s House and Senate and then be signed by the governor (Tom Wolf).

There was always going to be a time at some point where it would be appropriate and perhaps less controversial to begin looking back at Paterno’s legacy as Penn State’s football coach, with the benefit of hindsight and allowing time to pass by to allow for a broader perspective of the good and the bad. Perhaps this is the beginning of that time.

UCLA and Tom Bradley closer to becoming official

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Last week it was reported UCLA was moving forward with hiring West Virginia assistant Tom Bradley to fill the vacancy on the coaching staff at defensive coordinator. It looks as though we are one giant step closer to that becoming official.

ESPN.com Pac-12 reporter Kevin Gemmell reported Monday (via Twitter) Bradley has been hired by UCLA, and an official introduction could come as early as Tuesday. There was no timetable given for the official announcement, although Bradley reportedly will be on UCLA’s campus on Tuesday so that would seem to make the most sense.

Bradley spent the majority of his coaching career as an assistant at Penn State under former head coach Joe Paterno. When Paterno was dismissed of his duties in November 2011 following the release of grand jury testimony focusing on Jerry Sandusky, another longtime Paterno assistant, Bradley was named the interim head coach for the remainder of the 2011 season. Bradley interviewed for the full-time job but was passed over in favor of Bill O’Brien in January 2012. Bradley spent time doing TV work before returning to the sidelines last year with West Virginia.

UCLA is gaining one of the more respected defensive coaches in the country, and he should have a positive impact on the level of play of UCLA’s defense once he gets situated. Bradley’s defenses tend to be steady and limit scoring opportunities for opponents, but at times Bradley’s defense plays with a bend-but-don’t-break approach. With the talent pool he may have to work with at UCLA, the Bruins should become one of the top defensive programs under Bradley’s watch.

Bradley will be stepping outside of his natural habitat, but the change of scenery should not have a huge impact on his abilities at UCLA. Bradley spent years establishing solid recruiting connections in western Pennsylvania and nearby recruiting grounds while at Penn State, which is something West Virginia had hoped to take advantage of. It could take some time to make those same kinds of connections in California, but there is plenty of talent to start scouting and recruiting. Bradley should be just fine in that area.