Back in March of this year I penned this post documenting the shift in the media portrayal of the Sandusky scandal and how that could lead to pressure on the NCAA to reduce the sanctions imposed on Penn State. Well, here we are a few months later and the trend continues. Every article written looking back this week at the one year anniversary of the sanctions contains a paragraph questioning the NCAA's handling of the incident as well as the questionable nature of the Freeh report's findings.
However, it no longer just looks like the media pundits and talking heads have softened. We are now getting quotes from those in actual positions of power making statements that would have been considered outrageous 6 months ago. First Keith Masser, chairmen of the Penn State Board of Trustees, was quoted by USA today as stating that the Freeh report conclusions were "speculation". He has since recounted that statement but if you ask me he probably did say it but naively thought that it wouldn't make it into an article that he was led to believe was going to focus on all of the "progress" that has been made at Penn State over the past year.
Then there was this Q&A with Emmert where he has several interesting things to say (for a change). First, he tries quite hard to distance himself and down play his responsibility for this debacle by saying the sanctions as well as the unprecedented lack of any due process was more the executive committee's decision than his. He also states three separate times that this is a situation nobody (including himself) feels good about. That seems to be a far cry from the Emmert who came down with righteous anger and enthusiasm to levy the punishments last year. He seemed to being feeling really good about himself then. If nobody on either side was really "feeling good" about it a year ago don't you think they would have handled the process differently? Then finally, there is this exchange:
Q: In terms of the penalties levied against Penn State, is there any discussion or thought of revisiting those?
A: Well, that again would be up to the executive committee.
Q: Wouldn't you be part of that?
A: I'd be involved in the conversation, of course. Those are again not my decisions to be made. One of the really positive things going on here is the ongoing engagement of Sen. Mitchell [former Sen. George Mitchell and his law firm] on monitoring the implementation of a variety of changes at the university. So that provides the executive committee and the Big Ten with an opportunity to on a quarterly basis see what is going on here and how things are moving forward. I think that is healthy. If at some point the executive committee should want to revisit that question they are certainly able to do that. That, too, would be unprecedented.
This is fascinating to me because once again he tries to distance himself by saying it is up to the executive committee. He also implies fairly strongly that if the executive committee likes what they are hearing from Mitchell that opening up a discussion with the university is possible. His use of the word "opportunity" in that response is particularly telling.
The last piece of the puzzle is then to find out how the executive committee at he NCAA is feeling about things. In this excellent article documenting Emmert's failures at the NCAA by Mike Fish and Dana O'Neil there is a side bar regarding the Penn State scandal that has this quote from Lou Anna Simon, a member of said executive committee:
"I think now it might have been handled differently by both parties," she said, referring to the Penn State president's acceptance of penalties handed out by NCAA leadership. "In hindsight, you have to decide how much the public outcry pushed both sides into a process that was unconventional. It wasn't just the NCAA, but Penn State that was the focus of this public outcry."
So now you have Emmert blaming the executive committee as to how things went down last year. The NCAA executive committee is in turn throwing blame Penn State's way. Penn State then blames the NCAA. Nobody wants responsibility for this shit salad known as the "consent decree." So here we are only one year into the sanctions and everybody involved from the school, to the players, the media, and even at least one member of the NCAA executive committee think that the scope of the sanctions was a mistake. The sanctions are intended to have an impact for at least 6 years total on the field of play, not including the irrevocable loss of wins and money. If all of these involved parties are softening their stance now, just a year in, I can't imagine they are really going to have the stomach to see this to the bitter end 5 years plus down the road.