The NCAA agreed Friday to restore 112 football wins it had stripped from Penn State in the Jerry Sandusky child-molestation scandal, a move that reinstates Joe Paterno as the winningest coach in major college football history.
The agreement, swiftly approved by the boards of the NCAA and the university, lifts the last of the sanctions imposed in 2012 and wipes away at least the official black marks that had hung over Penn State.
After more than two years of criticism that the NCAA had overstepped its authority, NCAA officials on Friday said they were motivated to reach an agreement to end litigation so that there would be distribution of Penn State’s $60 million fine to fund child abuse-prevention programs.
Before the agreement, the NCAA had agreed last year to eliminate some of the sanctions, including reinstating Penn State’s full complement of scholarships and letting the team participate in postseason play.
Friday’s agreement threw out the rest of the sanctions, including eliminating a five-year probation period and scholarship and transfer rules, and restoring the wins that had been wiped out. It also bowed to Pennsylvania officials’ desire to see the $60 million fine spent in Pennsylvania, not spread to child abuse-prevention programs around the nation.
The deal emerged just days after a federal judge declined to rule on the constitutionality of the sanctions and weeks before a Pennsylvania court was to hold a trial on the legality of the penalties.
“This is a win,” said Pennsylvania Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, who had sued the NCAA with state Treasurer Rob McCord. “The NCAA has surrendered.
“This validates our position that the rush to judgment against the Penn State community was wrong, damaged uninvolved parties and disregards our values of due process.”
The restored wins include 111 under Paterno and the final victory of 2011, after trustees fired Paterno in the wake of the charges against Sandusky. That returns Paterno’s record to 409-136-3. He died of lung cancer at 85 in January 2012.
“The victors are those of us who were advocating for the children,” said Harris Pastides, an NCAA board member and president of the University of South Carolina.
The NCAA, however, also did not back off its right to take such strong actions in form of sanctions where necessary.
“The board felt they had to quickly and decisively put forward a set of sanctions. I hope we never have to do this again,” said Kansas State president Kirk Schulz, an NCAA board member.
The unprecedented scope of the sanctions had drawn intense criticism from Penn State alumni and fans who defended Paterno as innocent in the scandal and called the school’s athletics program a national model.
In the agreement, Penn State acknowledged that the NCAA had acted in good faith in the Sandusky matter, and university president Eric Barron said he believed the NCAA had a legitimate concern about institutional control.
The penalties sprung from the scandal that erupted when Sandusky, a retired assistant coach, was accused of sexually abusing boys, some of them on campus.
Penn State’s then-president, Rodney Erickson, agreed to the sanctions in 2012, in the weeks after Sandusky was convicted. Just days earlier, former FBI Director Louis Freeh released a scathing report commissioned by Penn State’s trustees and the school removed an iconic bronze statue of Paterno from the school’s Beaver Stadium.
Freeh’s report accused Paterno and other top Penn State officials of burying child sexual-abuse allegations against Sandusky to avoid bad publicity. The report portrayed Paterno, a Hall of Fame coach, as more deeply involved in the scandal than previously thought.
The alleged cover-up by Paterno, then-university president Graham Spanier and two other Penn State administrators allowed Sandusky to prey on other boys for years, it said.
Paterno was never charged with a crime.
Sandusky was convicted of 45 counts and is now serving a 30- to 60-year prison sentence.
Paterno’s family called Friday’s announcement “a great victory for everyone who has fought for the truth in the Sandusky tragedy.”
Michael Boni, a lawyer for one of the victims who testified at Sandusky’s trial, said he supported the restoration of Penn State’s scholarships and bowl eligibility last fall, but does not believe Paterno’s victories should be reinstated because they were “tarnished” by Sandusky.
He also said he sensed a shift in Penn State’s attitude after the criminal case against Sandusky wrapped up and it concluded civil settlements with victims.
“There was a movement away from what I thought was a genuine mea culpa on the part of Penn State, having accepted the NCAA sanctions, and one toward, ‘Why did we cave so easily?' That was disappointing,” Boni said.
Penn State sports teams were not wasting time in heralding the restoration of the wins. Penn State hockey players wore stickers on their helmets reading “409” — the overall number of wins by Paterno — in Friday’s game against Michigan State.