Penn State, as an institution, is caught in the middle of a hurricane.
Penn State, as a football program, is weathering the storm.
In some ways, that defies all logical expectations.
After all, the Jerry Sandusky scandal can be directly tied to the football program. He's the team's former defensive coordinator and was once considered the heir apparent to head coach Joe Paterno. The scandal helped sweep the legendary Paterno out of his job. And one of Sandusky's reported crimes was committed at the Penn State football facility and was witnessed by an assistant coach.
Still, despite all that considerable baggage, the Nittany Lions' football program has emerged with only moderate damage.
Much of the credit for that must go to new head coach Bill O'Brien, who has performed admirably under very trying circumstances. He has said and done the right thing at nearly every turn.
The energetic O'Brien has criss-cossed the mid-Atlantic region in an effort to sell the program and heal any lingering wounds.
Despite predictions of doom -- including some from this corner -- O'Brien has proven to be a surprisingly solid recruiter. He salvaged a decent 2012 class, despite some high-profile defections in the immediate aftermath of the Sandusky revelations and Paterno's firing and subsequent death.
His 2013 class, which boasts a dozen verbal commitments, looks even better. It's ranked No. 3 in the Big Ten, behind only Michigan and Ohio State, and is ranked anywhere from No. 10 to No.13 in the nation, depending on which recruiting service you believe.
He was even able to land the best offensive tackle recruit in Pennsylvania just days after the Sandusky verdict came down. O'Brien beat out in-state rival Pitt for WPIAL standout Dorian Johnson, who also had offers from Alabama, Nebraska, Notre Dame and Southern Cal. That was very big "get."
Ticket sales have lagged some, but are not down dramatically. The school recently announced that all 21,000 student season tickets were sold out. Beaver Stadium won't be packed for every game this season, but it's unlikely that the Lions will draw crowds in the 50,000-60,000 range, either. The best guess here is that a few games will draw 100,000-plus, while the rest will draw 80,000-100,000.
The television networks also aren't shying away from showing PSU games, either. ESPN, ESPN2 or ABC have already committed to showing four PSU games, with more likely to follow. The Lions have traditionally been a big ratings draw and the networks seem to expect that to continue.
That doesn't mean that the PSU football program is out of danger. There is still one major sword hanging over the Lions' head.
The NCAA has said it is looking into the Sandusky scandal. If the NCAA finds that "institutional control" was lacking, Penn State could suffer severe penalties, such as fewer scholarships, a postseason ban and/or recruiting limitations. Some newspapers, especially in the south, have even demanded that Penn State get the NCAA death penalty -- meaning the Lions' football program would be suspended for a full season.
The NCAA will likely not make any rulings in the case until all the criminal proceedings have played out, meaning the 2012 season should be unaffected. After that, however, the NCAA could step in and slap the Lions hard.
The gut feeling here, however, is the NCAA will steer clear of punishing Penn State football. Barring any unforeseen revelations, it does not appear that PSU broke any specific NCAA regulations. Of course, lack of "institutional control" is a relatively vague term that could be used to punish PSU, but the death penalty appears very unlikely.
If the NCAA severely punishes Penn State's football program for criminal violations, as opposed to specific NCAA rules violations, the organization could be setting a dangerous precedent.
Besides, Penn State University has already suffered -- and will continue to suffer -- crushing penalties. A former PSU icon has been convicted of monstrous crimes. The school's reputation is shattered. The university will almost certainly pay millions to settle lawsuits from Sandusky's victims. And two of its administration officials are still facing criminal charges.
And there's still more to come. Former FBI director Louis Freeh has yet to release his independent investigation into the scandal, which is expected to include more damning revelations. Yes, Penn State hired Freeh to do the probe, but don't expect a PSU-friendly report.
Freeh's considerable reputation is on the line, and it's been reported that he and his associates have talked to hundreds during the course of the probe. Besides, Penn State can't afford, from a public relations standout, to offer anything but a thorough and fair report. Any hint of a cover-up or whitewash will be met with a massive public backlash. As a result, Freeh will likely bend over backwards to be hard on PSU.
Freeh's report is expected later this summer.
So there can be no doubt that Penn State, as an institution, is caught in the middle of a hurricane.
Penn State, as a football program, continues to weather the storm.
Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dis patch. He can be reached at sheiser@yorkdis patch.com or at 854-1575, ext. 455.