STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — At Penn State, bowl games and packed stadiums under Joe Paterno yielded to scandal, suffering and sanctions at the abuses of Jerry Sandusky.
But the Happy Valley faithful and its resolute players who stuck with the program though its bleakest era can finally start to feel whole again.
The Penn State fans who lock arms and bellow “We Are” can finish the slogan: Bowl eligible. Back on track. Competing for a Big 10 title.
Not quite catchy, but good enough for devotees in a town where “Honor Joe” signs still dot windows throughout downtown in reverence to the legendary coach.
The NCAA levied the blistering sanctions two years ago, including a four-year postseason ban. It softened that Monday, taking Penn State a step farther away from the fallout from Sandusky, a former assistant coach convicted of sexual abuse of 10 boys, including acts at university facilities.
Tom Kline, a lawyer who negotiated a settlement with Penn State for one of the eight victims who testified against Sandusky at trial, said Tuesday it made sense to ease the penalties, given the university’s reforms and other actions.
“I believe that the university should be able to move forward positively, based on everything they have done,” Kline said. “Lifting the sanctions is something that is earned, deserved and is a correct decision.”
It was certainly welcomed by a good chunk of the Nittany Lions’ roster, who had every opportunity to escape without punishment when the sanctions were handed down.
“I just love Penn State,” senior linebacker Mike Hull said. “I love the school, love everything about it. I’m just a Penn State guy at heart.”
Hull is one of 39 holdovers from the summer of 2012 still with the program. Another 10 recruits as part of the incoming class, including franchise quarterback Christian Hackenberg, kept Penn State together for two competitve seasons under former coach Bill O’Brien.
With sanctions lifted, a marker that Penn State is now a normal football school again, first-year coach James Franklin asked those 49 players who survived a cascade of controversy to stand at the front of the room for a standing ovation at an emotional team meeting on Monday night.
“We are all in debt to them,” Franklin said Tuesday. “We’re going to play for them because they were here for this program and this university when we needed them most.”
In addition to postseason play, Penn State also will be allowed to have the full complement of football scholarships in 2015.
“It will have an impact on this class,” Franklin said. “I don’t know if it will be as big an impact as some people think.”
Students celebrated peacefully on campus late Monday night after the lifting was announced, chanted Paterno’s name and the popular “We Are” slogan.
The jubilant rally was much different than the violent reactions seen 2
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