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NCAA sanctions lifted

Posted by Eric Fisher On January 16

A settlement in a lawsuit has resulted in the NCAA rescinding all penalties against Penn State’s football program and agreeing that the $60 million fine paid by the university in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal be spent to prevent child abuse and help its victims within Pennsylvania.

Sandusky, formerly Penn State’s defensive coordinator, was found guilty of abusing boys he met through his Second Mile charity, which was supposed to help troubled and disadvantaged boys. Sandusky had “emeritus” status at Penn State and had access to the university’s athletic facilities.

The 112 victories eliminated by the NCAA have been restored, making legendary Nittany Lions coach Joe Paterno, once again, the official leader in career victories in major college football. With the 111 wins since 1998 restored to Paterno’s official record – one win came under defensive coach Tom Bradley after Paterno was fired following the revelations about Sandusky – Paterno has 409 victories, and “409” became a rallying cry for many who felt the NCAA sanctions were unfair.

The postseason ban and the reduction in scholarships were rescinded before this past season.

The lawsuit was filed by Pennsylvania Senate majority leader Jake Corman, who represents the area that includes Penn State, and state treasurer Rob McCord.

Corman called the settlement a “total repeal” of the consent decree signed by Penn State under pressure from the NCAA during the summer of 2012. The Penn State Board of Trustees has been under fire from alumni for signing the consent decree.

The NCAA imposed the sanctions shortly after the release of the Freeh Report, an investigation conducted by former FBI director Louis Freeh, which was commissioned by Penn State. Rather than conduct its own investigation, the NCAA used the Freeh Report as the basis for harsh sanctions against Penn State, including a reduction of football scholarships, a ban on postseason appearances and the elimination of 112 victories, dating back to 1998, when a mother complained that Sandusky molested her son. That case was turned over to police, but the district attorney decided charges weren’t warranted.

The Freeh Report concluded that Penn State administrators, including Paterno, tried to sweep another allegation about Sandusky’s sexual actions toward another young boy under the rug, failing to report it to a state agency and concealing evidence, in order to protect the football program.

Criticism of the Freeh Report was buried by an avalanche of outrage toward Penn State. The NCAA jumped on board by imposing Draconian sanctions on Penn State and its football program, even threating the program with the “death penalty” – disbanding the football program – if it did not accept the sanctions.

The discovery process in the lawsuit revealed emails within the NCAA questioning whether the organization had jurisdiction and discussing whether to “bluff” Penn State into accepting the sanctions by threating the program with the death penalty.

Court documents also revealed that Ed Ray, Oregon State president and former chairman of the NCAA executive committee, admitted he did not read the Freeh Report before sanctions were imposed. Ray said he may have looked at the executive summary of the Freeh Report and read media accounts, but did not read the report before leaving for going to Hawaii, and did not read the Freeh Report before the news conference – in which he was a participant – announcing the sanctions.

Many of those affiliated with Penn State were upset by the NCAA’s implication that there was an imbalance in the university’s culture between the football program and the rest of the university. Futhermore, the connection between the alleged imbalance and the Sandusky scandal was called into question.

Many questioned whether the Sandusky scandal had any connection to football. The sanctions against the football program, therefore, were considered unwarranted.

The lack of due process was another sticking point for Penn State defenders. The NCAA’s failure to conduct its own investigation was contrary to its own rules. The NCAA cited “extraordinary circumstances” as justification for its actions.

The Paterno family, which has its own lawsuit pending, called the potential settlement “a great victory for everyone who has fought for the truth in the Sandusky tragedy. … “This case should always have been about the pursuit of the truth, not the unjust vilification of the culture of a great institution and the scapegoating of coaches, players and administrators who were never given a chance to defend themselves.”

It’s unclear if the settlement in the lawsuit filed by Corman and McCord will affect the criminal trials of former Penn State president Graham Spanier, former athletic director Tim Curley and former university vice president Gary Schultz.

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