Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The Penn State Nittany Lions have a bye
this weekend. Normally during such a week, the biggest news to come
out of Happy Valley would be a change on the depth chart for the Big Ten
That is not the case this time, as the biggest and best news of the week
for the Nittany Lions has nothing to do with such a game.
On Tuesday, the NCAA announced it will begin to "gradually" restore
football scholarships to Penn State that were taken away as part of the
unprecedented sanctions against the university in the fallout of the Jerry
The restoration plan calls for Penn State to receive five scholarships
each year until it reaches the limit of 25 initial scholarships in
2015-16 and 85 total in 2016-17.
As with any action taken by the NCAA in these matters, there are clearly
winners and losers, even in a case like this.
The very clear and obvious winner is Penn State football, especially
head coach Bill O'Brien and his coaching staff. O'Brien was hired away
from the New England Patriots to take over a sinking ship following
the dismissal of long-time head coach Joe Paterno.
Every new coach faces challenges, but O'Brien had to deal with a lot
more than adjusting a defensive scheme or fixing problems on the
offensive line. From the onset, O'Brien's recruiting powers were crippled
by the NCAA sanctions, which included the still-in-place postseason ban
and a $60 million fine to go to child abuse programs. O'Brien not only
couldn't bring in as much talent, he had to watch a lot of the talent
that existed leave. The prime example was leading rusher Silas Redd going off
Even when saddled with such difficult circumstances, O'Brien found a way
to make his team competitive. The Nittany Lions went 8-4 and O'Brien was
named the Big Ten Coach of the Year.
Now O'Brien and the players who stuck around, the group of people who
would have been continually punished for heinous acts performed by
others far before their time, can begin to raise Penn State back up.
"I'm happy for a few groups of people," O'Brien said. "I'm happy for
our staff. This is an excellent football staff of people here who have
worked extremely hard every day since we arrived here at Penn State.
I'm happy for our players. I think we have a resilient bunch of kids
here in our program. They've acted the right way off the field, and I
believe they have performed admirably on the field. And I'm very happy
for the people here at Penn State."
Though he may not have said it, there are certainly a few groups of
people that O'Brien is not happy for. Obviously, disgraced and dismissed
former university president Graham Spanier and athletics director Tim
Curley have already suffered their punishment. However, there is another
group that "lost" in this scenario - the NCAA itself.
Restoring the scholarships, even on a gradual basis, is the right thing
to do. The coaches and players at Penn State presently and in the future
had nothing to do with the terrible actions of Sandusky and then Paterno,
Spanier and Curley. It was a punishment even those in direct competition
with Penn State saw as wrong.
"I think that was a bad deal personally," Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz
said. "Seems like a lot of people that shouldn't have paid a price, paid
a price. That's just my outsider looking in. I'm looking at the players
Now those players and coaches will not have to carry so heavy a burden
of punishment that Sandusky and others created for the program.
However, it is difficult to separate the actions taken by the NCAA on
Tuesday from the continued missteps the organization has taken recently.
Examples like the debacle with the University of Miami and the hypocritical
condemnation of players profiting while selling jerseys with players' names on
them on its online store. Thanks to Jay Bilas for exposing the latter misstep.
Finally, there was the handling of the Johnny Manziel autograph situation,
which ended with a cowardly first-half suspension in Texas A&M's season opener.
Now the NCAA is taking back some of the most severe punishments it has
ever put into action. Though the official announcement claims the gradual
restoration is being awarded because "Penn State has clearly demonstrated its
commitment to restoring integrity in its athletics program," there are
certainly other reasons than what amounts to good behavior that pushed the NCAA
But the saying goes that to the victors goes the spoils. Penn State is
the victor here, even if the spoils are somewhat minor. There is still a
postseason ban on the program and it won't be at full strength until at
least 2018. However, if O'Brien could go 8-4 with recruiting handcuffs, it's
going to be fun to watch him mold a team with those shackles loosened.
"It's always important on the competition level itself to be on a level
playing field," O'Brien said. "(The Big Ten) is a fantastic conference
with great head coaches and great players. It's good to be getting back
to being on a level playing field with them in terms of scholarship
Getting back to level ground will still take some time, perhaps less
time if other sanctions are lifted, but time nonetheless. For now, Penn
State can only prepare for Indiana, which it faces in the Big Ten opener
a week from Saturday.
The Sports Network