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Easing Penn State's sanctions is the exact wrong message

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Thursday, Sept. 26, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

With three former top Penn State officials awaiting trial on charges of covering up convicted pedophile Jerry Sandusky's horrific predations, easing NCAA sanctions on the football program makes a mockery of those penalties and their ostensible purpose of righting priorities that put gridiron glory ahead of children's victimization.

Indeed, the Penn State conduct alleged in the Freeh report — including that of former President Graham Spanier, former athletic director Tim Curley and former vice president for finance and business Gary Schultz — was so egregious that the football program deserved the NCAA's “death penalty,” which the university avoided by agreeing to unprecedented sanctions without contesting them.

Yet now, the NCAA is easing sanctions that apply directly to the football program at the behest of former Sen. George Mitchell, its independent athletics integrity monitor for Penn State.

“While there is more work to be done, Penn State has clearly demonstrated its commitment to restoring integrity in its athletics program,” said Mr. Mitchell in announcing restoration of some football scholarships. That would enable Penn State to again award the one-season maximum of 25 by 2015-16 and the full-roster maximum of 85 by 2016-17.

But so long as Penn State has “more work to be done,” the NCAA has no business helping refuel Happy Valley's football-first mentality. Easing these sanctions now sends the message that Penn State's failure regarding Mr. Sandusky really wasn't that big a deal — and that Nittany Lions football remains the biggest deal of all.

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