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Points by Ben Simmons during Game 3 victory over Nets

Fish ‘n Chips

Posted by Eric Fisher On September 9

(The Fish ‘n Chips column is sponsored by Legal Sea Foods – Gourmet Gift Division … so much more than Fish ‘n Chips … “If it isn’t fresh, it isn’t Legal!”)
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Happy Valley is happy once again. On Monday, the NCAA rescinded portion of the draconian sanctions it levied on Penn State after the infamous Freeh Report was issued two years ago.

Upon receiving a report from former senator George Mitchell, Penn State’s academic integrity monitor, the NCAA immediately ended the Nittany Lions’ postseason ban. That means Penn State can also share in the Big Ten’s bowl revenues. The NCAA also restored Penn State’s full complement of football scholarships (to 85). Furthermore, the NCAA agreed that money from the $60 million fine imposed on Penn State could remain within Pennsylvania, which had been the subject of a lawsuit.

There are several ways to look at the NCAA’s decision to lift the sanctions. From the perspective of the football program, there is obvious satisfaction and joy. Being eligible to play in a bowl game is a deserved reward for the players who have stuck with Penn State despite the sanctions. Having the same number of scholarships to offer as other football programs will allow the Nittany Lions to address their depth problems, most notably along the offensive line.

Another way to look at the decision is that the NCAA is attempting to placate the major football conferences, which have been chipping away at the NCAA’s power. This summer, the NCAA basically allowed each conference to write its own rules. Other than slapping Connecticut women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma on the wrist for a “secondary” violation for a congratulatory call to Taney Dragons Little League star Mo’ne Davis – after a complaint allegedly was filed by another coach – the NCAA infractions committee’s inactivity in response to a deep cesspool of violations has been so egregious that Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby openly complained this summer about the lack of enforcement by the NCAA and said that “cheating pays.”

In light of its recent lack of response to out-of-control programs, the NCAA’s harsh treatment of Penn State in 2012 seems even more out of whack. The NCAA bypassed its own by-laws, skipping the infractions committee and basing its sanctions on the Freeh Report instead of conducting its own investigation, in its rush to judgment in the Penn State situation. As I suggested at the time, the NCAA seemed determined to assert its power, acting as a bully against an opponent it knew wouldn’t fight back. Who would want to be perceived as siding with disgraced former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky and a potential cover-up by Penn State’s administration?

But people eventually fought back. The Paterno family has filed lawsuits. New members were elected to the Penn State Board of Trustees, which many believed unnecessarily caved in to the NCAA’s bullying. Pennsylvania filed a lawsuit to keep the money from Penn State’s fine within the state, saying that the NCAA’s demand to do otherwise illegally took taxpayer money out of the state.

Some people surmise that the NCAA’s actions this week are an admission – without explicitly saying so – that the NCAA overstepped its bounds and that its punishment of Penn State was too harsh and unfair.

I don’t know if it’s accurate to describe this week’s decision as an apology, but I see it as an end to a ridiculous assertion that Penn State lacked institutional control over its football program. Penn State was not an outlaw school bending – or breaking – recruiting rules. Its graduation rate, particularly with respect to African-American athletes, was exemplary. Its reputation for building good men, personified in the wake of the scandal by Mike Mauti and Mike Zordich, should never have been tarnished.

The only stain that still needs to be removed is the 112 victories the NCAA took away from Penn State. Those victories had nothing to do with Sandusky’s despicable acts with young boys. Sandusky was only an assistant coach for two of those seasons, and authorities investigated the 1998 complaint against Sandusky and decided not to press charges. There wasn’t any cover-up of the alleged incident in 1998.

If the NCAA truly wants to make amends, it should restore those victories to the athletes and coaches, including Joe Paterno, who earned them.

*****

SHAMEFUL ACTIONS: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, while announcing a new league policy concerning suspensions for domestic abuse, said he “didn’t get it right” when he suspended Ravens running back Ray Rice for two games for knocking his fiancée unconscious in an elevator at Atlantic City’s Revel Hotel and Casino.

Now that we’ve seen the video of Rice’s actions inside the elevator, Goodell’s “I didn’t get it right” comment looks like the understatement of the century. I’ll have a lot more to say about the NFL’s handling of the Ray Rice situation in my regular column this week.

*****

GOOD STORIES STILL EXIST: The Ray Rice disgrace overshadows all other NFL news, but there was a positive, feel-good NFL story the week before the opening games. The Bengals re-signed former Penn State defensive tackle Devon Still to the practice squad.

Practice squad signings aren’t usually major news. What made Still’s re-signing newsworthy is that the former second-round pick’s young daughter is suffering from cancer. Still, with an injured hamstring and an ill daughter, didn’t have a great training camp. He was cut, a decision he understood.

But the Bengals signed him to the practice squad to help him pay for his daughter’s cancer treatments. Being on the practice squad also means Still won’t travel to away games, so he can spend more time with his daughter. Finally, the Bengals announced that they will donate all sales from Still’s jersey to pediatric cancer research.

See, there is some good news in the NFL.

*****

ROSTER ISSUES: Chip Kelly left his team shorthanded Sunday. By putting Dennis Kelly on the inactive list, the Eagles only had two backup offensive linemen. When left guard Evan Mathis and right tackle Allen Barbre left the Jaguars game during the second quarter with injuries, the Eagles were one injury to an offensive lineman away from tight end Brent Celek playing offensive line.

Kelly was scratched, while first-round draft pick Marcus Smith was active. Both contributed about the same amount to Sunday’s 34-17 victory. If Smith isn’t going to play, he should be inactive on game days, regardless of how embarrassing it would be for the Eagles to have their first-round pick inactive.

*****

CAPTAIN COMEBACK: Roger Federer’s rally from two sets down against Gael Monfils in the U.S. Open quarterfinals was remarkable. Federer fended off two match points, and then reeled off five straight games, leaving Monfils despondent and frustrated.

Federer may have paid for his comeback in the semifinals when he was unable to muster similar energy to rally from a two-set deficit against eventual champion Marin Cilic, who swept Federer in straight sets.

*****

CHASING THE CUP: The 16-driver field for NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup is set, with Ryan Newman and Greg Biffle securing the final two berths Saturday night in Richmond. The 10-race Chase, with a new format that eliminates drivers every three races, begins Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway. Look for my Chase preview this week at www.phillyphanatics.com.

*****

CHASING THE CUP II: Flyers rookie camp begins Friday. Regular training camp doesn’t begin until Fri., Sept. 19, but some veterans have already reported to Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees. That’s an encouraging sign.

*****

FIGHT FOR THE AGES: Bernard Hopkins, 49, will put his IBF and WBA light heavyweight championships on the line on Nov. 8 when he faces undefeated Russian Sergey Kovalev at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. Kovalev is 25-0-1 with 23 knockouts. Hopkins is 55-6-2, with 32 knockouts. He will turn 50 in January.

Eric Fisher, who has been covering sports for 26 years, is the same age as Bernard Hopkins, but has no plans to fight in November.

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