NCF Nation: PSU sanctions reduction

Happy Valley not placated by reduction

September, 25, 2013

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- The afterglow of reduced sanctions has faded here in Happy Valley.

Tuesday afternoon classes filled with chatter about the restoration of Penn State scholarships, but the wave of surprise and satisfaction has died down.

Former players, fans and alumni are pleased with the NCAA's most recent move. That much is obvious. But an overwhelming number of people labeled it as simply not good enough. It's cause to smile but not to celebrate.

[+] EnlargeMatt McGloin
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarFormer Penn State QB Matt McGloin is pleased with the NCAA's decision, but he wants more.
"I was really excited for Coach [Bill] O'Brien and the program, but I was kind of still pissed off because I feel like the NCAA is just taking baby steps toward things," said Stephon Morris, who played cornerback for Penn State last season. "They know they're wrong -- we all know they're wrong -- so why not give us everything we deserve? I feel like they could do more than what they're doing."

The town's opinion of the NCAA hasn't changed. Some students still strolled downtown, backpacks slung over their shoulders, with blue T-shirts that depict the letters "NCAA" with the "C" angled into a hammer and sickle. "National Communist Athletic Association," the shirts read.

Stop a Penn State student, ask about the reduction in sanctions, and you're almost begging to first hear a soliloquy on everything that's wrong with the NCAA and its president, Mark Emmert. Students and fans are quick to say they don't mean to diminish the atrocities of former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky -- but they add he doesn't reflect the university and didn't offer a competitive advantage.

They say the NCAA overstepped into a criminal matter. And a reduction in sanctions is simply a door-prize for being wronged themselves.

"With the scholarships, yeah, I'm happy about it. I'm happy we give out money for kids to play football," said Penn State senior Tyler Bodnar, a meteorology major. "But it seems like they're kind of like, 'Oh we screwed up. We didn't mean to come down that hard.'

"We feel like we're still getting punished for something we had no hand in -- and neither did the players, neither did the coaches, neither did the community."

In the HUB-Robeson Center -- a popular glass-and-brick building where students can dine quickly on cheap pizza, grab a latte and leach off free WiFi -- students read books quietly on the second floor Tuesday evening and again Wednesday afternoon. Some studied on the bustling first floor, while overheard conversations centered on a criminal justice class and dorm-room drama.

The theme of student discussion did not revolve around the NCAA's most recent move, of allowing PSU 75 scholarships next season, as opposed to the original cap of 65, and putting PSU at the full allotment of 85 scholarships by 2016. Four of 10 interviewed students Tuesday evening hadn't even heard of the reduction.

Three thousand miles away, in the confines of Oakland, Calif., Oakland Raiders quarterback Matt McGloin was well-aware of the move. McGloin, the former walk-on and O'Brien protege, sat in the Penn State players' lounge last July 23, when Emmert strolled up to the podium on TV and recited the crushing sanctions.

Emmert glanced up from his notes every few moments, without a change in facial expression. At Penn State some players, mostly the freshmen and sophomores with their entire college careers in front of them, just cried. The upperclassmen, McGloin remembered, just seethed with anger and frustration.

"To watch him on TV, you could see it in his face -- how it meant nothing to him to hand all this out. It meant nothing to him," McGloin said Tuesday night. "That's what got guys so frustrated."

The reduction doesn't make up for that day, McGloin continued, but the news of extra scholarships was still something he was pleased with -- even if he wasn't so sure about the NCAA's motive.

"I'm optimistic about the situation and want to say it's the first step toward something great. At least they're doing something about it," he said. "But, at the same time, I'm starting to think that maybe the direction they're heading is, 'Hey, let's give them something small just to shut everybody up and shut these people up so it makes it look like we're doing something.' That's my only concern with it."

Penn State senior Allen Sheffield, president of the group of student campers known as "Nittanyville," understands where McGloin's coming from. Sheffield still remembers mowing the grass, washing laundry and taking out the trash before reclining on his couch last July 23 to watch the sanctions beside his father.

The shock, anger and potpourri of emotions didn't wane because of a recent NCAA announcement. One student felt it was as if a company cheated them out of $1 million and then tossed them a $100,000 settlement. Of course they're still angry. Of course they think that's not enough.

Nittany Nation took to social media to express their surprise and contentment over the restoration of scholarships. But that happiness had about the same shelf life as milk left out in the sun.

"Twitter tells everything," Sheffield said Wednesday afternoon. "My timeline from the first couple hours was just like boom-boom-boom. And then, later on, no one's really talking about it."

Some fans are still organizing and calling for the Board of Trustees to resign. Cars are still cruising through the downtown with "409" bumper stickers -- a nod to Joe Paterno's 409 wins, 111 of which were vacated as part of the sanctions. And message board posters are still questioning the validity of points made in the Freeh Report.

Happy Valley lived up to its namesake for a few hours Tuesday. But now it's as if the reduction never happened. The community isn't happy -- and might not be until Emmert can say there's no culture problem or the sanctions are erased.

"What they've given us is great and all," McGloin said. "But I guess I'd have to agree with Steph [Stephon Morris]. It's just not enough yet."

Speaking on the Big Ten coaches' conference call Tuesday, Penn State coach Bill O'Brien didn't sound as happy as you might expect him to be.

The NCAA had just announced that it would restore scholarships for the Nittany Lions beginning next season, helping put O'Brien and his program back on a more even footing with their peers. O'Brien certainly was pleased with that decision, though it didn't do anything to help him win games this season. Like any football coach, he's focused on preparing for the next game, which will be Oct. 5 at Indiana.

[+] EnlargeBill O'Brien
Randy Litzinger/Icon SMIAt a young age, it was clear that Bill O'Brien had aspirations of becoming a football coach. "I loved coaching ... loved the strategy of the game and reading about the game," he said.
"It doesn’t have any effect on this year, so we’ve got to immediately get back to work on Indiana and try to improve," O'Brien said. "Today is definitely more about the future. It’s about next year, and the year after and the year after that."

That's true. What's also true is that the future of Penn State football is inexorably tied to that of O'Brien. And Tuesday's announcement made it far more likely that O'Brien will be sticking around in State College, Pa., for a while.

Remember, O'Brien took the job before he knew of the crippling sanctions the NCAA would levy against the school. He has been coaching with one hand tied behind his back ever since, with depth issues on his current team and fewer scholarships to offer on the recruiting trail. He has done a remarkable job with what he has been given, but you couldn't blame O'Brien for wanting an easier situation.

His success in the NFL as the offensive coordinator with the New England Patriots, along with his obvious ability as a playcaller at Penn State in a pro-style system, makes O'Brien a sought-after commodity at the next level. The Eagles and Browns both talked to O'Brien about their coaching vacancies last year, and they won't be the last ones to have his agent's number on speed dial in the offseason.

Eventually, O'Brien is likely to return to the NFL. The money and the opportunity to coach the best players are just too much to turn down. The Eagles are paying former Oregon coach Chip Kelly a reported $32.5 million over five years. O'Brien might have even more leverage because of his NFL background, and despite its many resources, Penn State would have trouble matching that kind of money.

But O'Brien and his family are also comfortable in State College and seem to enjoy the college lifestyle. What Tuesday's ruling does is provide light at the end of the tunnel and more reason to see this job through. Instead of having to wait until 2018 to have a full roster of players, O'Brien can have as many as 80 scholarship players in the 2015 season and the full 85 in 2016. He no longer has to be ultraselective about which players he recruits while scouring the region for promising walk-ons. He can offer more prospects, and Penn State can better survive the inevitable recruiting misses.

There will still be some gaps in the junior and senior classes. But as it stands now, Penn State should at least field a competitive team in 2016, the first year the Lions are eligible for the postseason. And it remains quite possible that the NCAA could reduce the bowl ban and let Penn State play in one as soon as next season, though there are no guarantees.

O'Brien can now see the top of the mountain he must climb. Whether it's 2016 or earlier, the first time the Nittany Lions get to a bowl game will be a special moment that he shouldn't want to miss. Freed from the toughest part of the sanctions, O'Brien could make Penn State a Big Ten and even national title contender again before too long.

The NFL will always be there and it will remain tempting. But O'Brien now has far less reason to jump ship than he did before today.

NCAA trying to unring sanction bell

September, 24, 2013

NCAA president Mark Emmert can explain until he turns Nittany Blue that the NCAA eased its sanctions against Penn State as a reaction to the university's good behavior. And on its face, that's true. Penn State has begun implementing the change in athletic culture that the NCAA demanded when it threw the Nittany Lions under its jail for the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

The decision to begin restoring football scholarships, Emmert said in a hastily called teleconference Tuesday, is "solely a recognition of the very good work that has been done by the Penn State leadership and their willingness to drive change."

But the decision to begin restoring football scholarships to head coach Bill O'Brien is a tacit acknowledgment that the NCAA sanctions constituted an overreaction that diminished the organization in the eyes of its member schools and the public. That sound coming from University Park, Pa., is a bell unringing.

Here's the meat and potatoes: instead of three more years of granting 15 initial and 65 total scholarships, O'Brien will be allowed to restore five per year in each category. Penn State will return to the NCAA maximum of 25 initials in 2015-16, and a team limit of 85 the following year. The other sanctions -- the $60 million fine, four-year postseason ban and the five-year probation -- remain intact.

NCAA president Mark Emmert said the decision followed the recommendation made by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, the Independent Athletics Integrity Monitor appointed by the NCAA to oversee a change in the Penn State athletic culture.

The decision is, Emmert said, "solely a recognition of the very good work that has been done by the Penn State leadership and their willingness to drive change."

To read the rest of the story from Ivan Maisel, click here.

NCAA responding to winds of change

September, 24, 2013

NCAA president Mark Emmert didn't see the boulder sitting behind him on that July day when he announced unprecedented sanctions against Penn State.

But it was there, waiting for someone to get it rolling.

The bungled Miami investigation gave it a good tap, followed by a decent shove from Ed O'Bannon and, finally, the last bit of oomph, courtesy of Johnny Manziel.

Now the NCAA isn't so much Sisyphus, helplessly rolling the boulder back up the hill, as it is an ant, watching it tumble at full blast and scurrying away in the hopes of not getting steamrolled.

While explaining the decision to reduce the scholarship penalties against Penn State, Mark Emmert insisted this was unprecedented action for unprecedented circumstances.

Nothing the NCAA does can be taken in a vacuum. As much as the organization likes to preach about individual cases and unique decisions, it is, as it also likes to remind us, a membership organization. Its actions -- or more accurately its reactions -- always encompass the greater good.

This decision says as much about where the NCAA is today as the tough stance taken just 14 months ago defined the organization then.

There is less of an appetite for a punitive and righteous NCAA than there ever has been. The public doesn't want cheaters, but it has seen how the collegiate sausage is made and doesn't like the current rule book any more than the cheaters. From APU arm bands to dissecting investigative reports, the culture has changed and changed dramatically.

Between those shifting tides, jabs and body blows from frustrated conference commissioners, and lawsuits coming at it from every angle -- O'Bannon on behalf of athletes, the Paterno family on behalf of Penn State -- the NCAA is at a critical crossroads that may end up as a fight for its very livelihood.

To read the rest of the story from Dana O'Neil, click here.

Video: Penn State reaction

September, 24, 2013
Editor's note: To watch the show on your smartphone, click here. reporters Brian Bennett, Adam Rittenberg and Mark Schlabach discuss what the NCAA's move to reduce the sanctions on Penn State means for the organization and the school.

Penn State coach Bill O'Brien was an understandably happy man Tuesday when he appeared on the Big Ten coaches' teleconference.

O'Brien learned earlier Tuesday about the NCAA's decision to gradually reinstate scholarships that had been removed when the sanctions against the program came down in July 2012. He will meet with the team at 2:45 p.m. ET to discuss the big news. Penn State has an open week.

"Since I was hired here, we’re just trying to do what’s right for the student-athletes here," O'Brien said. "We've made mistakes. We've owned up to those. If we sent an improper text or made a [prohibited] phone call, we reported them right away. We're certainly not perfect. I think we have a good leader here in [university president] Rod Erickson.

"We're just trying to do the best job we can for Penn State every day."

That job gets easier for O'Brien and his staff, who can adjust their recruiting approach beginning next year. Penn State has 12 recruits verbally committed for the 2014 class.

O'Brien declined to discuss specific recruiting strategies but talked about the challenge that the initial sanctions posed. At times, Penn State has been able to offer only one scholarship per position.

"We always felt once we were able to get a young man and his parents here on campus, the place sold itself," O'Brien said. "It's a place where you can get a fantastic degree. It's a place where you can play in the Big Ten. … As far as recruiting the individual athlete, that was never difficult here. The numbers were the difficult part."

O'Brien is excited for his players and Penn State fans, especially the students, calling it "a good day for all of those people." He's appreciative of the support from other Big Ten coaches. Iowa's Kirk Ferentz called Penn State's initial penalties "a bad deal" and is glad steps are being taken to rectify things.

Although the scholarship change doesn't impact Penn State until next year, it gives O'Brien a chance to reiterate a message to his players about "sticking together and being committed."

Penn State could receive an additional reduction of penalties, including the postseason ban, which is set to run through the 2015 season. But O'Brien isn't thinking about that just yet.

"When the rules changed a little bit, we adapted to those rules," he said. "The rules now are we can sign a few more guys and can get back to 85 scholarships a little bit sooner. We can’t go to a bowl or compete for a championship, but we definitely can get more on an even playing field numbers-wise, and that's what we're concentrating on as a staff."

PSU statements on reduced sanctions

September, 24, 2013
Penn State issued the following statements Tuesday after the NCAA announced the gradual reinstatement of scholarships to the football program.

Athletic director Dave Joyner

"I am very happy for Coach [Bill] O'Brien, the football coaches and staff and the players; especially pleased for our current and future student-athletes, who are the most important reason why we love working in intercollegiate athletics. We will continue to work hard within the Athletics Integrity Agreement to fully comply and to achieve excellence in everything we do at Penn State."

Head football coach Bill O'Brien

"Today's announcement by the NCAA is tremendous news. As a staff, we are especially pleased for our players, who have proven themselves to be a resilient group of young men who are able to look ahead, focus and overcome adversity. Penn State has long been known for graduating its student-athletes and providing them with a world class education. The scholarship additions will allow us to provide more student-athletes with a tremendous opportunity to earn that degree and play football for Penn State."

Clearly a great day for O'Brien and the Lions. More to come ...

Big Ten statement on Penn State

September, 24, 2013
The Big Ten released a statement on the NCAA's decision to reduce the scholarship sanctions against Penn State:
"Earlier today the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) held a teleconference to announce a modification to the sanctions set forth in the Consent Decree that the NCAA entered into with Penn State on July 23, 2012.

"The NCAA’s decision to modify the Consent Decree was based strongly on the recommendations of Senator George Mitchell, who has been serving since August 2012 as the independent Athletics Integrity Monitor responsible for overseeing Penn State’s implementation of the reforms set forth in the Athletics Integrity Agreement (AIA). The AIA was entered into on August 29, 2012 by the NCAA, the Big Ten Conference and Penn State as one of the requirements of the Consent Decree.

"As a party to the AIA, the Big Ten, through its Council of Presidents and Chancellors (COPC), met with Senator Mitchell on Tuesday, September 17, 2013 and received his report on Penn State’s progress in complying with the reform requirements of the AIA. Senator Mitchell's briefing included a recommendation to modify the NCAA sanctions in the Consent Decree related to scholarships based on the significant progress that Penn State has made to date in its compliance and reform efforts. He made no other recommendations to modify any other sanctions at this time.

"'On the basis of Senator Mitchell's briefing, the COPC reached consensus to support his recommendation to the NCAA,' said COPC Chair and Iowa President, Sally Mason. 'We support the NCAA's announcement today acting on that recommendation.'"

NCAA restores Penn State scholarships

September, 24, 2013

It's a milestone day for Penn State football.

The NCAA has announced that it will modify some of the unprecedented sanctions it levied against the program in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Specifically, Penn State will have five additional scholarships to offer next year, bringing its total to 20 in 2014-15. The Nittany Lions will be able to offer the full 25 initial scholarships after that year.

We will have much more on this throughout the day, but here is the full NCAA release on the reduced penalties. In it, Sen. George Mitchell -- who recommended the modifications to NCAA and Big Ten leadership -- had this to say:
“While there is more work to be done, Penn State has clearly demonstrated its commitment to restoring integrity in its athletics program,” said Mitchell. “The university has substantially completed the initial implementation of all the Freeh Report recommendations and its obligations to the Athletics Integrity Agreement, so relief from the scholarship reductions is warranted and deserved."

And here's a statement from Penn State president Rodney Erickson:
"The action taken today by the NCAA, following its review of the positive report issued this month by Sen. George Mitchell, recognizes the significant efforts over the past year to make Penn State a safer, stronger institution," said Penn State President Rodney Erickson. "This news is certainly welcome to our University community, particularly the student athletes who may want to attend Penn State and will now have the means to do so. As we promised throughout this process, we are committed to continuing to improve all of our policies, procedures and actions.

"The resiliency displayed by those young men, as well as our entire student body is something of which we are proud. I would also like to thank the literally hundreds of University administrators, faculty, staff and students whose hard work over the past 15 months helped lay the groundwork not only for this action by the NCAA but, even more importantly, for a better Penn State."

More to come on this story ...