Sanction Reflections

Reflections from former recruiting reporter Beth Long on what the lifting of the bowl ban and most of the sanctions means for the people within the program.

A sigh of relief. An excited message board post. What are Penn State fans doing to celebrate the lifting of the sanctions?

Maybe you are reflecting on the last three years. I know I am.

Hearing the news about the sanctions takes me back to 2011, that's the year when gave me my break in the sports business.

My first assignment was a FOS magazine piece on tight end Kyle Carter. I still remember calling Carter, while I lived in Syracuse, feeling nervous. We spoke while I was sitting in my car because I felt my apartment was too loud. (Most times sports journalism isn't glamorous.) He spoke eloquently about how the tragedy of losing his father had at first made him doubt his future, but eventually made him stronger. It made him want to fight for his future.

Little did he know he would have to do the same for the Penn State program just a year later.

Carter was the first member of the Nittany Lions' Class of 2011. The Delaware native loved Penn State, that was clear. That was the difference, and would eventually be throughout the entirety of the sanctions for the program. The people within it.

As I got more familiar with the program and FOS, recruiting rolled forward onto the junior class.

Then, it happened. Joe Paterno was out, the scandal broke, the future didn't look bright. Could journalism school ever prepare you for something like that?

Against the odds, the Class of 2012 would turn out to include several current rising stars on the roster. Running back Akeel Lynch, wide receiver Geno Lewis and tight end Jesse James plus countless others. Each and every one of those athletes signed their letter of intent and then were released from it before they even stepped on campus.

They stood by Penn State. That's why today, it's nice to see the NCAA stand by them.

To take a step back here, one thing I have learned over and over again in this field, is that sports may be a big entity -- but it's made up of people. Each and every team has countless coaches and players that form one bigger identity. The challenge is getting the athletes to play as one, to buy in to the program.

As a journalist you cannot be a fan of teams, which I am not -- but it is very hard not to root for the good people you encounter. In fact, I don't think you should have to as long as your coverage remains unbiased.

We must keep in mind that college sports are at the core turning boy and girls into young men and women. They are about people, and their development for the better.

As a journalist you cannot be a fan of teams, which I am not — but it is very hard not to root for the good people you encounter.

Take Lynch, an under the radar prospect playing his high school ball in Buffalo who called during the Senior Bowl in late January to tell me he was committing to Penn State. The Lions had just named Mike London the running backs coach and Lynch was excited about the direction of the program.

With that, Lynch flipped his commitment from Boston College to Penn State.

"I like the direction they are heading," Lynch told me. "And I like the philosophy they have and what they are doing with Penn State.”

Foreshadowing? Soon after that the sanctions hit. Lynch and the rest of the class stood by the program.

Another prospect who sticks out from the months after the sanctions came out is now sophomore tight end Adam Breneman from Cedar Cliff. He was from the Class of 2013.

He committed to Penn State, saw the sanctions come down, thought about his future and then reaffirmed his commitment.

"I love being in the spotlight and I like giving the fans hope," Breneman told me. "I think at a time like this, really since last November (when the scandal broke), fans needed leadership and someone to show them hope.”

He added, "A recruit can't do it all, but they can help.”

That's exactly what the program needed. I can't imagine the pride that Breneman and each and every one of the athletes in the program feel today.

Breneman stood tall, along with Lion quarterback Christian Hackenberg. Now, the two are familiar names with Penn State fans in this new era led by James Franklin.

"I have always been the type of kid that wanted to be a difference-maker," Breneman said. "And I have that opportunity to be at Penn State and make a difference in the community and be at Penn State when they need that the most.”

That's what made this work for Penn State. Kids like Adam Breneman. Every athlete on that roster has a part in the healing process.

The athletes in the Class of 2012 were OK with never going to a bowl game. They choose Penn State because that is where they felt they belonged. What a mature decision, fans said. I would say this multiple times over, remove Penn State, remove football from the picture completely, these kids deserve a chance to chase their dreams.

I think you can expand the next quote from Breneman to the Class of 2012 and 2013. They are special people and I am lucky to have had a chance to get to know them all as they made their college choices. That is the main reason why the lifting of the bowl ban should reign so significant. They all gave me my first taste of journalism, of beat coverage - and that is why it is enlightening to see things come full circle.

"The Class of 2013 will not be forgotten," Breneman said. "It will be a class that everyone remembers 20 years down the road. It will be the class that gives Penn State football hope again.”

The real victory here is that the young men will get a chance to realize a dream they had previously written off, a bowl game. Call it whatever you like, I call it promise for a talented group of young men.

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