I think that more and more signs are pointing to the sanctions being reduced for PSU. There certainly seems to be a change in the media narrative. It has become especially apparent over at ESPN. I know most of the folks on this site hate ESPN but it is where most of the general public gets their sports news.
First there was a pretty even handed podcast by Ivan Maisel/Don Van Natta after the Paterno report came out. However, who except only the most devoted fan (and lazy media types looking for story "ideas") bothers to sit through a dry dull podcast, if they can even find it. So this is pretty limited exposure to an alternative viewpoint and it's by two guys that have been apparently pretty fair minded all along. Then there was this recent blog post monday by Brian Bennet who does the Big Ten blog for ESPN. In it he states the following in answering a question regarding the process used by the NCAA regarding PSU:
"I don't think anyone disputes the notion that NCAA president Mark Emmert overstepped his bounds and acted without precedent in using the Freeh Report as the sole basis for punishing Penn State."
So he has gone from a somewhat neutral/harsh viewpoint on PSU to saying no one disputes Emmert went over the line. What he should have said is "I don't think anyone now disputes that Emmert overstepped his bounds, etc". Just a few months ago Bennett was doing quite a bit of "disputing" of said notion in pieces such as this and this. But the above quote showing his change of heart is buried in a blog post that perhaps nobody but me is reading.
Then we get the article today by Gene Wojciechowski about how it is now time to reduce the sanctions. Boy did his position change in a year. This was his position last summer: A new standard of misconduct warranted a new standard of punishment . But "Woj" is in the business of writing what he thinks people want to hear and people want to read things that reinforce things they already believe to be true. This article would suggest that the court of public opinion has shifted. The public is no longer calling for the shut down of Penn State's football program and is increasingly critical of the NCAA's heavy handedness. This is likely due to a combination of the Paterno report, the disaster of the Miami investigation, the various lawsuits against the NCAA, and the easing of the emotional backlash that is inevitable with time. The incredible heart and dignity that the football team showed this year likely also helped. This article posits that even if everything in the Freeh report is correct, the school no longer deserves the punishment it has received. That is very different than arguing that the Freeh report is a piece of BS and the whole thing should be thrown out. The public still accepts the Freeh report, although maybe not with the same vigor they did 6 months ago, but they seem to be softening on the punishment that came with it.
The sanctions were completely motivated as appeasement to the public outrage. As that outrage subsides the NCAA risks looking like a bunch of vindictive jackasses (which we know they are) if they insist on carrying these sanctions to their conclusion. In today's 30 second news cycle 4 years is an eternity to try and maintain an emotionally charged storyline.
It's especially interesting to me that ESPN has posted the Mitchell: Penn St. 'making progress' article right next to Woj's article. I believe they are hinting that George Mitchell is the NCAA's ticket out of the rabbit hole. The NCAA can say, "Look, we were tough and we sent this Mitchell guy in as an 'independent athletics integrity monitor' and he assures us that they made all of these great changes, and since they have done such a bang up job following our recommendations, our point has been made and we think anyone who was thinking of concealing a pedophile at Penn State is sure going to think twice about it now, so we think we can ease up, so leave us alone and we'll go back to making sure student athletes go to class and don't get free cars."
I think Penn State does one more year of hard time and then the sanctions get lifted while the school gets put on super double serious "we're really watching you" probation for another few years.