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No excuse for NCAA softening on Penn State sanctions

Penn State head coach Bill O' Brien  center waits tunnel leading field with his team before an NCAA college

Penn State head coach Bill O' Brien , center, waits in the tunnel leading to the field with his team before an NCAA college football game against Central Florida in State College, Pa., Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013. Central Florida won 34-31. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar) ORG XMIT: PAGP

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Updated: September 24, 2013 10:26PM

When the NCAA levied unprecedented sanctions against Penn State last summer, it was a knockout blow that would keep the football program down for years.

By retroactively alleviating some of those sanctions, the NCAA is unnecessarily extending a hand to help Penn State football back up.

The NCAA announced Tuesday that beginning next season, it would restore five Penn State scholarships, with that number to increase in future seasons. The decision was made based on the recommendation of former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, who has been serving as the independent athletics integrity monitor for Penn State.

According to a release from the Big Ten, the recommendation was made ‘‘based on the significant progress that Penn State has made to date in its compliance and reform efforts.’’

There’s no gray with this issue. A university can’t make progress in the enablement of a sexual predator. It starts and it stops.

The reforms to the sanctions may be small — for now, Penn State still has a postseason ban through the 2015 season — but philosophically, the NCAA is making a statement that football must go on at Penn State.

As an assistant coach for one of college football’s most storied programs, Jerry Sandusky preyed on children too afraid to say no to a man idolized for his contribution to winning football games. That program, in turn, perpetuated the physical and psychological damage on Sandusky’s victims by covering up the situation for its own benefit. The late Joe Paterno and the Penn State hierarchy made football a priority, and the NCAA is doing the same by reducing the sanctions.

Nittany Lions coach Bill O’Brien can’t be faulted. He was hired, in part, to rehabilitate Penn State’s image. It’s his job to advocate for the university and keep the conversation forward-focused. The NCAA just shouldn’t listen.

The NCAA has a disciplinary system to deter universities from committing various infractions. What transpired at Penn State couldn’t have been predicted. And considering the crimes, there should be no parole.

The fatal flaw in the NCAA’s system is that it often punishes those who weren’t guilty of any indiscretion — but not in this case. At the time of the sanctions, players on the Penn State active roster were given the option to transfer without having to sit out a year. Those who have committed since then didn’t have to. Missing out on recruits was supposed to be a byproduct of the sanctions.

Paterno apologists point to all the good he did for the university, which includes helping with the development of Penn State academically. They say that outweighs his transgression.

But responsibility and honor don’t have caveats. Paterno shouldn’t get a reprieve. Neither should Penn State or the NCAA.

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