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Kovacevic: Cut Penn State's sanctions? Sure, for right reasons

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Penn State coach Bill O'Brien leads the football team onto the field before playing Ohio State on Oct. 27, 2012, at Beaver Stadium.

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By Dejan Kovacevic
Sunday, July 21, 2013, 10:33 p.m.

Bill O'Brien is one tough B.O.B. Give him that, no matter your feelings about Penn State or your fandom in college football. The man took on an impossible challenge amid the stench and sanctions of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, and he stirringly came up roses.

Coach of the year?

Try coach of forever.

Because of that, and, infinitely more important, because of concrete action the university and O'Brien have taken to address child abuse, I hope the NCAA considers reducing its sanctions on the football program.

Really, I do.

But there's a catch: It's got to be the university and O'Brien leading the charge.

Not the Paterno wackos.

Excuse the brusque term. It's not meant to be broad. Rather, it isolates on the small, radical but strangely influential wing of alumni who prioritize the exoneration of Joe Paterno over, you know, serial child rape.

They can't be allowed to prevail here.

They can't be allowed to succeed through the May lawsuit filed by the Paterno family and others — not the university — that purports to seek the elimination of sanctions but, in reality, is a transparent attempt to clear Paterno of the public perception that he enabled the monster Sandusky.

That's all the lawsuit is about. It's got nothing to do with football or current or future athletes, and absolutely nothing to do with, you know, serial child rape. The naive thinking is that, if the NCAA loses, the Freeh Report is discredited, Paterno's statue comes out of storage, and it's a Happy Valley all over again.

The good part: It won't win.

The NCAA will never cave on any aspect of its ruling — $60 million fine, four-year postseason ban, loss of scholarships — if it's seen as an exoneration of anyone involved. And you'd better believe that includes Paterno, lest anyone forgets how boldly — but rightly — NCAA president Mark Emmert stripped away those 111 coaching wins.

The bad part: The Paterno wackos still muddle the process of what the university and the coach hope to get done.

So, what's O'Brien to do?

Fortunately, he's tough and smart. He's learned to suffer the fools around him, including the cardboard caricature formerly known as Franco Harris. He's learned to avoid the scandal and, most deftly, Paterno. (Yes, some lingering JoePa worshippers in the Central Pennsylvania media still ask O'Brien about him.)

O'Brien's top priority must be to hold firm to that stance, and he's off to a great start. Listen to this from a conference call Friday: “I understand exactly why the sanctions are in place. It's about putting an end to child abuse. It's about the victims. I get that. I really do. And we're doing our part to put an end to child abuse. But at the same time, I want to do what's right for this program, and I think this program is headed in the right direction in behaving well.”

Tough and smart.

O'Brien didn't indicate if/when Penn State might approach the NCAA, but he stressed it would be through discussion, not legal action. He expressed hope the NCAA could “meet us halfway.” Maybe it will happen soon. Tuesday marks the one-year anniversary of the sanctions.

Here's hoping that works out to the satisfaction of all.

But here's also hoping O'Brien continues to keep the Paterno wackos at arm's length, as their public image only deteriorates by the day.

Happen to catch the item on the other day?

It told of how the folks behind — that's what it's called, I swear — uncovered legit documentation of Paterno being interviewed by the state attorney general's office Oct. 24, 2011, just before Sandusky's arrest. Most of the interview is about the infamous 2001 incident when then-assistant coach Mike McQueary told Paterno of witnessing a sexual encounter between Sandusky and a young boy in the Lasch Building showers. It's the example most used to illustrate Paterno knew of Sandusky's behavior and took no action beyond telling his immediate superiors a full day later.

In this extraordinary interview — and who knows why put it out? — Paterno acknowledges McQueary told him he saw “touching ... whatever you want to call them, privates.” Paterno uses the term “sexual” four times in reference to what McQueary described.

Paterno's lone defense for staying silent for a decade: “I have no authority over Jerry.”

There's more, all damning.

Asked if he'd ever heard back from those superiors as to what action had been taken on Sandusky, Paterno replied: “No, no, I didn't. I had other things to do. We had ... as I said, Jerry was not working for me.”

That's a smoking gun no one should have to pick up.

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