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Path to Sanctions Reduction Starting to Take Shape for Penn State

Erik Brady of USA Today has something of a “well, of course” story out of Penn State. Everyone knows that the board of trustees at Penn State wants the sanctions reduced. The sentiment has ranged from “Let’s handle our business and beg for mercy” to “I’ll get the torches, you get the pitchforks, and we’ll meet to carpool to Indianapolis.” Paul Silvis, one of those trustees, acknowledges as much saying “there isn’t a person in the Penn State system who wouldn’t like to see the sanctions be relaxed”.

As much talk or even attempts through the legal system or NCAA to “appeal” or reduce the sanctions, any sort of official move from Penn State seems a way off. Even discussions amongst Penn State’s board of trustees are not exactly actionable since Penn State president Rodney Erickson, who signed the consent decree, is the one with authority to negotiate with the NCAA.

It appears that Penn State’s scholarship reductions have drawn the most attention as a place to work with the NCAA. Because of attrition, Penn State is already complying with the reduction in overall counters. Shortening that penalty by a year might not even be considered a reduction, rather than a shift in time.

Any formal request to open discussions with the NCAA is unlikely before the end of the upcoming football season, if not for another full year. The reason is that either the NCAA will require or Penn State will prefer to have a number of issues off the table before talking about reducing the sanctions. Some of those include:

  • Full implementation of the Freeh Report recommendations: Not 115 out of 119. Not 118 out of 119. Not “119 out of 119 but we decided to do something a bit different with one of them”. Full implementation, as close as possible to the letter, of all 119 recommendations.
  • A conclusion to all lawsuits: That includes all state lawsuits and the Paterno family lawsuit. It would be best for Penn State’s negotiating positions is the cases were voluntarily dismissed by the plaintiffs, but if the courts toss all the cases, the NCAA will not hold it against Penn State.
  • Conclusion to all criminal trials: There is still the matter of the trials of the former Penn State administrators outstanding.
  • Continued praise from Sen. George Mitchell: The longer the track record of glowing reports from Penn State’s athletics integrity monitor, the better the chances of coming to an agreement with the NCAA.

In Penn State’s ideal scenario, they would not be the ones asking the NCAA to reconsider the sanctions. Sen. Mitchell would suggest it based on the improvements he sees at Penn State. But since deciding if or when to revisit the sanctions is not exactly Sen. Mitchell’s role, that might not be a realistic expectation.

Once the above prerequisites are taken care of, the big decision for Penn State is when to broach the subject officially with the NCAA. If Penn State waited until before the final year of sanctions and asked for relief from the overall scholarship reduction, they could argue they have essentially complied with all the sanctions early. But starting negotiations earlier raises the possibility of getting a greater reduction of more of the sanctions.

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