$60 million in fines and mandatory contributions to charitable organizations; a postseason ban for four years, including the Big Ten championship game and all bowl games; removing all wins from official records dating back 14 years to 1998; a scholarship ban of 10 initial and 20 total scholarships every year for the next four years—these are the sanctions that were levied against Penn State's football program in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal in which top university officials, including renowned head coach, the late Joe Paterno, covered up a heinous act of cruelty.
Almost a full year ago, Penn State hit rock bottom, as allegations against Sandusky went public and incriminating evidence against campus hero Joe Paterno was deemed credible enough for the Board of Trustees to, on national televsion, immediately remove Paterno as head coach (they also removed the president of the university).
In the ensuing months, Penn State was sent into turmoil.
Although its football season ended in success and they came within one win of the inaugural Big Ten championship game, it was clear that a major overhaul to the program was coming. Whether this would be due to the potential "death penalty" and heavy sanctions that were lurking or because of the search for a new head coach for the first time since 1966, no one knew.
Later, Penn State hired a former FBI director to investigate the scandal and a civil lawsuit was filed against Sandusky and his charitable organization, "The Second Mile," for sexual abuse against children. To make matters worse, soon after his firing, Paterno was diagnosed with lung cancer and lost his battle in January of 2012.
The spring and summer were filled with sadness.
Recruited high school players de-committed from the program, players already on the team—such as star running back Silas Redd—transferred schools and the famous statue of coach Paterno leading his players out onto the field that stood outside of Penn State's football stadium was taken down. New head coach Bill O'Brien offered little hope, and many people thought that the upcoming season would be one of Penn State's most disastrous seasons ever.
Finally, on October 9, 2012, the Sandusky trial was brought to a close.
Sandusky was sentenced to a minimum of 30 years in prison and a maximum of 60. The end of this trial was a relief as well as a very symbolic signal to the end of a dark period for Penn State.
Penn State's season has gone better than expected so far.
They sit at 4-2 before heading to Iowa this weekend to take on the red-hot Hawkeyes and look to be a team that can definitely, at a bare minimum, play spoiler to a contender. At the same time, less recruits than originally reported renounced their commitments—the Nittany Lions got to keep star quarterback recruit Christian Hackenberg (for now) and tight end Adam Breneman.
These recruits, the coaching staff, the current players, the university officials and the students all hope that the sentencing was the last chapter of this horror story that struck over the last year.
By deploying a respectable football team every Saturday, Bill O'Brien and the football program have done a very good job of masking the pain and suffering that the program will surely endure down the road and can ensure that the scandal moves further and further into the rear-view mirror of the program by finishing the season strong. Penn State faces a tough schedule with trips to Iowa, Purdue and Nebraska—along with contests against Ohio State and Wisconsin at home.
To win some of these games that very few people thought they could at the beginning of the season and to finish over .500 would be a huge moral victory for the university and the program and would surely symbolize the beginning of a new age at Penn State.