Bird's-eye view of the PSU celebration

September, 9, 2014
Sep 9
10:30
AM ET
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- For two years, fans of Penn State football waited to hear that the Nittany Lions’ sanctions would be lifted. And on Monday, all that waiting -- the anger, the doubt, the questions -- melted into relief and gave way to celebration.

Several thousand students converged on campus to celebrate the NCAA’s afternoon announcement that PSU will be eligible for the postseason this year and will have full restoration of its scholarships next season. Students first met on the lawn of Old Main, the central administrative building, with reports coming just before 9 p.m. about the growing crowd.

Just before 10 p.m., the crowd -- decked out in blue and white -- spilled onto the campus sidewalks and paths on its way to Beaver Stadium. Some sprinted, some walked and most yelled. A few didn’t even know where they were going.

“Where are you guys headed?” one reporter asked.

“We have no idea!” was the response.

The size of the crowd was difficult to gauge around the stadium’s Gate A, where students routinely enter for football games. But some in the closely packed crowd stood atop merchandise vans, and constant chants rang throughout the night: “We Are ... Penn State!” “Dominate the State!” “Joe Paterno.” “I believe ... that we will win!”

Several players showed up, but most watched from across the street. Two greeted the students briefly, leading a Penn State chant, before taking off once TV cameras arrived.

Several police cars remained in the area, but no major incidents were witnessed. State College Police Chief Tom King later told Onward State, a student-run PSU blog, that he considered this “a peaceful crowd.”

After milling around the stadium, the group finally decided to head to Beaver Canyon, a downtown spot on Beaver Avenue that’s right next to traditional late-night snack spot Canyon Pizza. That’s where the crowd grew even larger.

The street was cordoned off, and police rerouted traffic around the crowd. The buzz of the group was palpable from at least three blocks away. Some students crowd-surfed on mattresses, others just gawked and took pictures, and apartment balconies flooded with fans taking it all in.

As students joined in the celebration, and as they got to within a block, most just took off in a full sprint. The energy was akin to an upset over the top-ranked team in the nation.

“Do we run?” asked one female student in pink dress clothes.

“Yeah, we run,” her friend responded, before a group of about five well-dressed students took off in a sprint.

The celebration subsided about 12:30 a.m. Tuesday, 10 hours after the initial NCAA announcement at 2:30 p.m. Monday. Classes on Tuesday began at 8 a.m.

Weekend recruiting wrap: Big Ten 

September, 9, 2014
Sep 9
10:00
AM ET
It was an interesting weekend for the Big Ten on the field to say the least. The play on the field has raised a few questions in terms of recruiting, but there were plenty of positives for the conference as a whole.

Because of that, we are here to give you a recap of what took place and what to watch in the future.

Biggest news:

Big Ten morning links

September, 9, 2014
Sep 9
8:00
AM ET
Three thoughts to kick off a fine Tuesday morning.
  • The timing of Penn State's bowl ban being lifted coincides nicely with Saturday's trip to Rutgers. We knew the Scarlet Knights faithful would be geared up for Rutgers' Big Ten debut against the program of record in the Mid-Atlantic region. Now Penn State fans will be even more energized as their team is eligible for a Big Ten championship and a postseason berth. I'll be at a non-Big Ten venue on Saturday night, but I can't wait to see the images from Piscataway, as High Points Solutions Stadium will be rocking for the first conference game of the season. Good times.
  • The Big Ten's Week 3 schedule lacks the national showcase opportunities we saw in Week 2, but there are some sneaky good matchups that could help or hurt the league's profile. Illinois aims for a bowl-boosting road upset against Washington, which has struggled in its first two games under new coach Chris Petersen. West Virginia, which visits Maryland on Saturday, looks much improved after testing Alabama in Week 1 and thumping Towson. Minnesota tries to validate its stock with a road win against TCU, while Iowa faces an Iowa State team that nearly stunned Kansas State last week. Notre Dame is a heavy favorite against Purdue, but the Boilermakers have given the Irish their best shot in recent years.
  • Perhaps we should expect this early in the season, but it seems like Big Ten coaches are being outwitted quite a bit by their opponents. In Week 1, Northwestern's staff admitted it didn't expect Cal to use freshman quarterback Luke Rubenzer as a complement to Jared Goff. Now Ohio State's coaches say they didn't expect Virginia Tech's defense to load the box so much or Hokies quarterback Michael Brewer to move around so much in the pocket. "That is the first time I've seen that kind of defense, maybe in our coaching career, where they were all [within] six yards [of the line of scrimmage]," Urban Meyer said. Meyer is a big fan of hyperbole, so take that into account. I just wonder when Big Ten teams will get the schematic edge in some of these games.

To the links ...

Penn State
East Division
West Division
And, finally ...

Nittany Lions fans, students celebrate

September, 9, 2014
Sep 9
12:15
AM ET
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Happy Valley lived up to its name Monday night, as thousands of Penn State students converged to celebrate the football team's newfound bowl eligibility and the return of its scholarships.

Students first gathered at the lawn of Old Main, the central administrative building, before running in droves to Beaver Stadium. From there, they marched downtown to Beaver Avenue -- where the crowd grew even larger.

For more than four hours Monday night, fans celebrated as if the Nittany Lions had just knocked off the top-ranked team in the nation.

Chants of "We are ... Penn State" rang out in the night sky, songs like "Sweet Caroline" and "Zombie Nation" were staples for the duration, and cries of "Joe Paterno" and "Where's the statue?" were frequently hit upon.

It was a relatively calm night, considering the size of the crowd. One fan attempted to scale a street light outside Beaver Stadium but was politely chided by a police officer and instantly climbed down. Another reporter saw the crowd disperse for a trapped taxi cab.

"We consider this a peaceful crowd," State College Police Chief Tom King told Onward State. "As long as no extensive damage is being done, we have no problem with it."

At least two players briefly joined in the celebration at Beaver Stadium before thinking better of it once TV cameras showed up. During the downtown celebration, some fans crowd-surfed on mattresses while many just stood around to take photos or take part in the chants.

The crowd gradually dissipated as the night wore on, and most left around 12:30 a.m. ET Tuesday. The NCAA's announcement was made around 2:30 p.m. Monday.


(Read full post)


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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting news across the country. Today's offerings: James Franklin and Penn State was already building one of the best classes in the country, and Monday's news that the Nittany Lions were eligible for postseason play will help them build an even better class. Plus, recruits across the country agreed with the NFL and the Ravens' decision to distance themselves from Ray Rice, and we continue our tour of the top recruiting happenings on social media.


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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- James Franklin and his Nittany Lions will address the media on Tuesday. Until then, here's a look at the current sentiment on the restoration of PSU's bowl eligibility and scholarships:

Penn State recruiting will get a boost 

September, 8, 2014
Sep 8
6:15
PM ET
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The NCAA announced Penn State will immediately be bowl eligible and the football program will be restored to 85 scholarships in the 2015-16 season. That is huge news for the recruiting efforts of the Nittany Lions as it eases pressure off of the coaching staff.

Penn State previously had the sanctions reduced to 80 total scholarships for the 2015 season, which means five more spots are now opened up.

With the No. 5 ranked class in 2015, the Penn State coaching staff obviously wasn’t having any trouble overcoming the sanctions, but this gives the staff a little breathing room.


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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- This is the moment that former and current Penn State players have waited for over the past two seasons.

The worst of the sanctions is over. The Nittany Lions can be bowl eligible, and their scholarships will be restored completely in time for next season. Penn State has survived a fate worse than the "death penalty" -- and former players who endured all this couldn't be happier.

"It's happened, it's over with, and we just need to be thankful with all that's happened the last two years: our teams, coach Bill O'Brien, James Franklin, this Penn State community, everyone," former cornerback Stephon Morris told ESPN.com. "We are all one. I'm just very, very excited. I was jumping up and everything when I heard it; that's no lie."

Alumni began texting feverishly as soon as the news hit. First came former Sen. George Mitchell's recommendation that the sanctions be all but eliminated, and on its heels came the NCAA's official announcement.

Center Matt Stankiewitch, a senior when the sanctions hit, can still remember the scene in the players' lounge when NCAA president Mark Emmert appeared on TV and hammered the program. For eight minutes, he decried everything wrong with Penn State. And Stankiewitch's teammates just stared at one another, gutted. At the nearby student union building, dubbed the HUB, some students gasped or openly wept.

"This is the total opposite of that feeling," Stankiewitch said Monday afternoon. "It's uplifting, it's gratifying, it's a great feeling to have. It's totally different. It's two different worlds."

These players -- in addition to several others -- may no longer be on the team, but they say Monday's news caused them as much, or more, happiness than the current players. Penn State is a community, a family, they said, and if that weren't the case, then they never would have made it this far.

"I never had a doubt in my mind about Penn State getting through the sanctions," said wideout Allen Robinson, now a second-round draft pick with the Jacksonville Jaguars. "Penn State wasn't just about a bowl game. It was about football and being with some of my best friends and having the opportunity to play with those guys like John Urschel.

"Playing at Penn State isn't just about bowl games. There's no place like Beaver Stadium; there's no place like Penn State. We lost the first two games my sophomore year, and we still had like 100,000 fans the next game. I don't think that happens everywhere."

Within an hour of the news, Morris had already contacted several former teammates -- such as LB Michael Mauti and DT Jordan Hill -- to share in that joy. No one, outside of these Nittany Lions, gave them much of a shot at first to make it through these sanctions.

Monday's announcement all but made that official. So, Morris said, the players he contacted are spreading the word: No matter what bowl Penn State makes it into, the recent alumni -- the ones who kept a team together through the university's darkest time -- plan to be there. In droves.

"We got to go to a bowl game and represent," Morris said. "We travel great already, but whatever bowl we go to, we're going to completely dominate that area. This is big for all of us, for all the former players, for all the guys. This feels awesome."

Morris received a few texts about PSU's eligibility but didn't wholly believe them until he saw the ESPN ticker scroll along the bottom of his television. First, he called his mother. Shortly thereafter, he called former teammate and safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong.

And Obeng-Agyapong told ESPN.com that one word came to him while he watched Monday's events unfold: validation.

"We stuck together through Penn State's toughest time," he said. "So for that ban to be lifted, it validates us sticking together because we stuck together for a reason. We knew what the NCAA was doing was wrong, and we weren't going to let them get the best of us."

The NCAA allowed players to transfer without impunity that first year. Only nine players initially took the offer. A lot of critics wrote off these Nittany Lions, but the former players said they never had a doubt.

Monday was a celebration, they said, and it's one that should stick with them awhile.

"With another school, maybe this is the end for them," Morris said. "With Penn State, we were disappointed, but we never held our heads down. We always thought we were going to make something good out of that equation. We always wanted more."

Big Ten Monday mailbag

September, 8, 2014
Sep 8
5:00
PM ET
That was a rough weekend for the Big Ten. Let’s check out the damage and move on to the mailbag:

Anthony from New York, N.Y., writes: Who had the worst weekend, Michigan State, Ohio State, or Michigan?

Josh Moyer: That’s a tough one, but I have to go with Michigan. The Buckeyes had a freshman signal-caller up against a strong defense, while the Spartans played arguably the best team in the nation. To me, those outcomes weren’t nearly as surprising as with the Wolverines. This was the final contest in the series against Notre Dame, and the entire game was an absolute embarrassment as U-M failed to score a point and lost 31-0. At least MSU led in the second half, and OSU kept the game close. This was the first time Michigan was shut out in 365 games – that’s 30 years – and it was the most lopsided victory for Notre Dame in a series that dates back to 1887. Michigan State and Ohio State didn’t help themselves with those losses, but those games weren’t historically bad. Michigan’s was.


Josh Moyer: I was more down on Ohio State after its Navy win than most people, so maybe this answer will surprise you: Yes. Sure, this offensive line still has a ways to go. But it showed improvement in the second half of the Navy game - and the unit didn't perform as badly as the Virginia Tech game indicated. On 43 of J.T. Barrett's dropbacks, the Hokies brought five or more pass-rushers on 34 of them. Frank Beamer blitzed mercilessly all night, and Ohio State just didn't have an answer. Any offensive line would've struggled under that kind of pressure. As Barrett matures and Urban Meyer opens the playbook, they'll be able to make teams pay with that kind of aggressive scheme. But it's just not in the cards right now. This line will get better, and Ed Warinner will get them "right." But it's going to take time.


Cal from Minneapolis writes: How do you really see Penn State-Rutgers playing out? A lot of buildup for this one, but Penn State beat Akron 21-3, Akron beat Howard 41-0, and Rutgers beat Howard 38-25. Is the game really going to go down to the wire?

Josh Moyer: Careful about comparing scores like that, Cal. Those don't mean much. And my view of Rutgers has changed quite a bit since the preseason. The Knights have proved they're far from a pushover. Paul James belongs with the group of B1G backs who sit a notch below the elite ones. Gary Nova has looked good, and Leonte Carroo provides a speedy threat at receiver. So I'd be surprised if Penn State plowed right through this team. I still think the Lions will - and should - be favored, but I do expect a close one. Sure, on paper, the Howard game looked tighter than it should've been - but it was 31-7 at halftime, and Howard scored only when the game didn't matter anymore. (It was 21-0 at Akron-Howard halftime, if you're curious.) Penn State has a better defense than Rutgers' first two opponents, but Rutgers should provide the biggest offensive test for PSU since UCF's Pete DiNovo struggled in the opener. Rutgers will need to force turnovers in this one, while Christian Hackenberg needs to remain calm and not force the ball. It should be a good one.


Josh Moyer: I hear knitting's a relaxing hobby. Or maybe B1G fans could adopt an NFL team or take to watching hockey? No doubt, it's difficult to be a Big Ten fan right now. I wish I could tell you that better times are ahead, but ... ummm ... it can't get any worse? That's the best I can do right now. It's basically impossible for this conference to prove itself the rest of the regular season. It missed its big chance. So the hope has to be this conference can regroup, solidify those weak points (e.g. Wisconsin - QB, Penn State/OSU - OL) and have a strong bowl season. That's quite a while away, but what more can I tell you? In the words of Jeremy Fowler, the whole Big Ten had an "Urban-Meyer-eating-pizza-outside-the-locker-room kind of day." And it won't get any better until the conference can change minds by beating better nonconference opponents, an opportunity that really won't present itself until bowl season. A team like Michigan State needs to win out, gain a playoff spot and put up a solid showing for outsiders' minds to change about the conference. 

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No one could argue that the Penn State football program did not pay a severe price for the Jerry Sandusky child-abuse scandal.

Sure, there were people who believed then and perhaps now that the Nittany Lions deserved the death penalty for the school's role in the former assistant coach's horrific crimes, and there are valid, moral reasons for that opinion. But Penn State has served a two-year bowl ban, surrendered dozens of scholarships, paid a $60 million fine, surrendered millions more in Big Ten bowl revenues, and dealt with an immeasurable stain on its reputation.

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY SportsNow on a level playing field, James Franklin could make Penn State a conference or national power again soon.
That's why the NCAA executive committee's decision on Monday to restore bowl eligibility immediately and bring the team back to the full 85 scholarships next season was the right call. Enough was enough.

Forget for a moment the unprecedented lengths NCAA president Mark Emmert traveled in order to punish Penn State for what was a criminal matter, not an NCAA rules violation. Discard the notion that those penalties and the ongoing oversight reports by former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell were mostly a public relations show. It simply never made sense to hold accountable current players and coaches who had no association whatsoever to Sandusky.

All who were actually involved are gone. Former Penn State president Graham Spanier, ex-athletic director Tim Curley and former administrator Gary Schultz lost their jobs and are awaiting trial. Former coach Joe Paterno is dead, and his legacy has been carefully scrubbed from all official proceedings. The school is on its second president (Eric Barron) since Spanier was deposed and recently hired its second athletic director (Sandy Barbour) since the scandal broke. James Franklin is the second coach since Paterno, and neither he nor predecessor Bill O'Brien had any direct ties to the school.

This is a new Penn State today, one that Mitchell noted has cooperated with 115 of the 119 recommendations made by the controversial Freeh report. Yet despite Mitchell's glowing remarks about the school's "commitment to integrity," anyone who has ever proudly yelled "We Are" knew deep down that the Nittany Lions didn't really have a "culture problem" -- at least not conventionally so.

Far from some rogue program, Penn State always ranked near the top of the NCAA graduation rates and never had to worry about knowing the names of infractions committee members. Sandusky was able to roam and prey in large part because Penn State was such a close-knit and closed-off community that provided too little oversight of its ingrained leadership. How banning the current football team from playing in a bowl game reflected or changed any of that never really computed.

The university must continue to make sure that checks and balances exist, and Monday's news should help provide more closure to the school's most difficult era. The divide between those who believe Paterno did no wrong and those who disagree may remain too large to bridge in the near future, however.

What the entire Penn State community can rally behind, even more so than it already has, is this season's football team. Freed from the NCAA shackles, the Nittany Lions can make a legitimate run at a postseason game this fall, and the turnout for a bowl should be huge if they get to one. Just about everything Franklin has touched since arriving in State College has turned to gold. He has hit all the right notes with fans, reeled in top recruits despite the restrictions, and won his opener on a last-second field goal. Heck, even his former team, Vanderbilt, has gone up in flames in its first two games since he left.

Unleashing Franklin onto an even playing field should make Penn State a Big Ten and national force again in the very near future, though there will be roster ramifications from the initial scholarship reductions still to overcome. The fact that the Nittany Lions didn't completely collapse under the weight of the sanctions -- they managed to avoid having a losing season, kept a player exodus to a minimum and still drew large crowds to Beaver Stadium -- are a testament to O'Brien and 2012 captains like Michael Mauti, along with the unyielding devotion that Pennsylvanians have for the Blue and White.

Some might still contend that Penn State should have stopped playing football altogether as penance for what Sandusky did under their noses. But the Nittany Lions are still here, and there's no reason to keep punishing current and future players. A steep price has already been paid.
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Penn State football has paid its penance, and the NCAA's executive committee on Monday lifted a bowl ban on the program and will return the full complement of 85 scholarships by 2015-16.

So what does it all mean? Read on.

  • Penn State is relevant again: It's not as if the Lions' accomplishments the past two seasons went unnoticed, but when a team is ineligible to win its league or compete in a bowl game, it naturally falls off the national radar. Penn State is still in the building stages under first-year coach James Franklin, but Lions players now can eye a championship in a league that, as we saw Saturday, looks very vulnerable. Michigan State remains the Big Ten's most complete team, but Penn State hosts both the Spartans and Ohio State. Depth remains a concern but Penn State should get better as the year goes along. A bowl appearance seems extremely likely, and don't be surprised if the Lions are a factor in the East Division race.
  • [+] EnlargeJames Franklin
    AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarBeing able to participate in postseason play will only help James Franklin's recruiting efforts.
    Franklin's recruiting pitch is even stronger: Although there had been rumblings about the bowl ban being lifted as early as last summer, Penn State had to operate as if it would be sidelined for two more postseasons. Franklin doesn't need much help in landing top recruits, but now he can sell the opportunity to reach bowl games and compete for championships right away. That's especially important as Penn State also has opportunities for recruits to contribute immediately.
  • Roster depth isn't a long-term problem: When the sanctions came down in 2012, many pointed to the scholarship penalties as the most damaging, more than the four-year bowl ban. It was hard to argue. But the restoration of the 85 scholarships by 2015-16 should make depth less of a concern going forward. Penn State won't have the truncated roster USC used for years and years. The Lions will be a young team for a while, but they'll have the scholarship players.
  • The Big Ten gets a boost: After a disastrous Saturday that some think removed the league from the College Football Playoff picture, the Big Ten needed some good news. Penn State returning to eligibility both for the league title game and the postseason provides some. The Lions haven't looked like world-beaters the first two weeks, but they're 2-0 and boast a ton of talented young players who will be energized by this news. Plus, they're a flagship program working toward restoring elite status. After Michigan's repeated flops and Nebraska's shakiness, the Big Ten needs Penn State to be Penn State.
  • The PSU community will be more united: Total harmony might not be possible because of the emotion that still surrounds Joe Paterno, whose family will continue to pursue its lawsuit against the NCAA and Penn State. But a larger portion of the Penn State community will be able to move forward. The lingering penalties for players who had nothing to do with the Jerry Sandusky scandal brewed bitterness toward the PSU administration, the NCAA, the former board of trustees and others, but the mood should change a bit in State College.
  • The East Division steals more of the spotlight: The concern when the Big Ten realigned its divisions was that the East would garner most of the attention. Penn State's restoration to bowl eligibility thickens the plot in a division that already includes Michigan State and Ohio State. The West Division has looked relatively weak so far, as Minnesota has been the only team without a scare in its first two games.
  • Franklin's life gets even better: What hasn't gone right for Franklin since he arrived at Penn State in January? Monday's announcement brings even more news for the lead Lion. His contract includes a $200,000 bonus for making a bowl game and bonuses for both making the Big Ten title game ($250,000) and winning it ($350,000). Franklin doesn't need much to get energized about coaching Penn State, but he'll be even peppier now.
  • Bill O'Brien becomes a vital figure in program history: There are some PSU fans still bitter about O'Brien's departure to the NFL after two seasons. Three words: Get. Over. It. Remember the doom-and-gloom predictions for Penn State when the sanctions came down in July 2012? How the program wouldn't be stable until 2020 or beyond? Thank O'Brien for stabilizing things masterfully, and thank an exceptional 2012 senior class that included linebacker Michael Mauti, quarterback Matt McGloin and other standouts.

Penn State's postseason ban over

September, 8, 2014
Sep 8
2:49
PM ET
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Penn State will be eligible for the postseason this year and will have all its scholarships returned next year, after the NCAA agreed Monday afternoon to again reduce sanctions stemming from the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.

Penn State's athletics integrity monitor, former Sen. George Mitchell, recommended both actions in his second annual report that gauges progress made by the university. Minutes after the report was announced, the NCAA said it would follow both recommendations immediately.

"Penn State has made remarkable progress over the past year," said South Carolina president Harris Pastides, a member of the NCAA's board of directors. "The board members and I believe the executive committee's decision is the right one. It allows both the university and the association to continue to move toward a common goal of ensuring that educating, nurturing and protecting young people is a top priority."

The school still must pay a $60 million fine, 111 wins under Joe Paterno -- and one win under interim coach Tom Bradley -- remain forfeited, and the program will remain under monitoring.

Scott Paterno, a son of Paterno's and a spokesman for the family, said a lawsuit brought against the NCAA and Penn State will continue despite the most recent reduction in sanctions.

"Finding out the full truth is the first priority and focus," Paterno said. "I am also hopeful and certain that at some time his victories will be restored."

The reduction comes one season after the NCAA scaled back the scholarships penalty following a glowing review by Mitchell in his first annual report. Originally, Penn State would have been able to field only 65 scholarship players this season; now that number is at 75.


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NCAA: State can keep Penn St. fine

September, 8, 2014
Sep 8
12:46
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[+] EnlargeSen. George Mitchell
AP Photo/Cliff OwenFormer U.S. Sen. George Mitchell's second annual Penn State report is due soon.

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- College sports' governing body said in a new court filing that it is willing to let Pennsylvania control the $60 million fine Penn State is paying over its handling of the Jerry Sandusky molestation scandal.

The NCAA on Friday asked Commonwealth Court Judge Anne Covey to dismiss the lawsuit filed by Sen. Jake Corman and Treasurer Rob McCord. If Covey agrees, the NCAA said it also will move to end a federal lawsuit against McCord, Gov. Tom Corbett and others that challenges a 2013 state law requiring the money remain within Pennsylvania.

Penn State accepted the fine as part of a 2012 consent decree with the NCAA that also imposed a four-year ban on postseason play, a temporary loss of some football scholarships and the elimination of 112 wins from the later years of former coach Joe Paterno's tenure.

Corman and McCord told Covey they still want to litigate the overall consent decree but acknowledged in court papers that it may not be feasible under state law.

"I would like to have aired out the consent decree," Corman said. "Unfortunately it was clear the NCAA did not -- that's why they gave up on this case."

Spokeswomen for the NCAA did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Corman said that it appears the money will soon be available to help victims of child sexual abuse. He said his lawsuit was aimed to show the NCAA, despite being a member organization, may not simply do what it wants.


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Penn State improved to 3-0 on the season with a 13-10 victory over Rutgers.
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