After two years of criticism, and facing a trial that could have shone a spotlight on its internal deliberations, the NCAA on Friday agreed to restructure the sanctions on Pennsylvania State University and restore the 111 victories it stripped from Joe Paterno's record after the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal.
The deal, approved in separate meetings by Penn State trustees and the NCAA board of governors, keeps the $60 million fine intact, but allows the university and state to spend it on child protection services in Pennsylvania.
The agreement ends at least two of the legal battles that erupted after the 2012 sanctions, and marks a victory for thousands of Penn State and Paterno supporters who argued that the punishment of the school and its celebrated coach was unjustified.
"The NCAA has surrendered," said State Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R., Centre), a Penn State alumnus who, with state Treasurer Rob McCord, had challenged the NCAA's authority in a case slated for trial next month. "The agreement that we reached represents a complete victory of the issue at hand."
The NCAA framed the settlement as a superseding agreement that rewards Penn State for its progress, continues monitoring the school, and helps victims.
"For me, this was about moving forward - stop spending money on defending your point of view and put the money to good work," said Harris Pastides, the University of South Carolina's president and a member of the NCAA board of governors. "Continuing this litigation would further delay the distribution of funds to child sexual-abuse survivors for years, undermining the very intent of the fine."
Both sides thus avoided a Commonwealth Court trial next month in which lawyers for Corman and McCord would have been likely to grill NCAA brass about dozens of internal e-mails and the decision-making process that preceded the sanctions.
Matt Haverstick, a lawyer for Corman and McCord, said Friday: "At trial, we would have put on a case that showed we believed that the NCAA desired a particular result not because it cared about Penn State especially, but because it cared about being, as one of the deponents testified, the new sheriff in town. We think the evidence would have shown the NCAA used Penn State and the Sandusky horror for its own end, to be the new sheriff in town."
This week, a federal judge ruled against the NCAA in a parallel case, dismissing its challenge to a state law mandating that the money from the fine be spent in Pennsylvania.
Other cases, civil and criminal, remain as part of the fallout from revelations that Sandusky, a longtime assistant football coach, was a serial child molester, and that Paterno and other administrators may have missed or ignored signs of his crimes. The late coach's family said it would still press its own lawsuit against the NCAA. And former Penn State president Graham B. Spanier and two administrators await a conspiracy and perjury trial over allegations that they covered up Sandusky's crimes.
For some critics, the deal fell short of what they wanted: an apology from the NCAA.
But the decisions mean Paterno, who died in 2012 at age 85, about two months after being fired, will return to the top of the victory list among major college football coaches, with 409. The 111 wins that were vacated dated to 1998, when, officials asserted, Paterno and others first saw signs of Sandusky's misconduct.
On Friday evening, six days before the anniversary of Paterno's death, students gathered on campus and in the streets of downtown State College for a celebratory rally in honor of the late coach. The gathering was peaceful, a marked change from the angrier rallies in November 2011, after the grand jury presentment was released in the Sandusky case.
Penn State's board of trustees, in a rare unanimous vote, supported the deal. Key to that decision was that the university did not acknowledge the NCAA's right to impose the sanctions, said alumni-elected trustee Anthony Lubrano, a Glenmoore businessman.
The final agreement states only that the university acknowledges the NCAA's "legitimate and good faith interest and concern" regarding the Sandusky matter.
That, said Lubrano, "is a major distinction." He called the deal a "beatdown" of the NCAA, but acknowledged he would have liked stronger language.
"Settlements are just never perfect," he said to reporters outside the trustees meeting in State College, "and this one was a very good one for Penn State overall. I think it was a big win for Penn State."
Addressing reporters at the organization's annual convention, outside Washington, NCAA president Mark Emmert said much of the original consent decree remained.
"An extraordinary fine is still in place," he said. "The two years of bowl bans still went forward, the athletic integrity agreement still remains in place, the scholarship reductions . . . were nonetheless in place."
Under the deal, the university's "athletic integrity agreement" with the NCAA includes retaining former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell as a monitor.
Penn State also agreed "to commit a total of $60 million to activities and programs for the prevention of child sexual abuse and the treatment of victims of child sexual abuse with the State of Pennsylvania." The university will pay $48 million of that to the state and retain $12 million in an endowment fund.
"This money will help our community and communities across Pennsylvania recognize how these predators operate out in the open and, hopefully, begin to make sure something like this never, ever happens again," Corman said.
News of the deal lifted spirits among alumni who have battled the board of trustees since 2012, but did not satisfy some.
"I'm glad the money will stay in Pennsylvania, but all this should never have happened," said Elizabeth Morgan, a central Pennsylvania veterinarian and Penn State graduate, whose grandfather, father, aunt, and brothers also attended the university.
Morgan said she was waiting for "the truth" to emerge about Sandusky and the Second Mile, the charity he founded and used to meet and groom his victims. "Somebody is covering up for Jerry Sandusky and the Second Mile, and that needs to come out," she said.
Maribeth Roman Schmidt, spokeswoman for Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship, a pro-Paterno group that has criticized the board since it fired Paterno days after the scandal broke, is among those looking for an apology from the NCAA - and more.
"As we have said before, our 40,000 members want to shine the court's spotlight into the dark corners of the original consent decree and hold accountable those who fraudulently scapegoated the entire Penn State community," said Schmidt, a Montgomery County public relations professional.
Lubrano, the Penn State trustee, said he would turn his attention to finally getting what he called proper honor for Paterno, whose famous bronze statue with its finger in the air in victory was taken from outside Beaver Stadium and put in storage in the scandal's aftermath.
He said he would like to see the statue restored to the same location.
"As far as I'm concerned, that needs to happen. It needs to happen very quickly," he said.
But the majority of board members have said they wanted to wait for the outcome of the criminal trials. Penn State president Eric Barron would not say whether there would be any retreat from that position in light of the NCAA deal.
Inquirer staff writer Jeremy Roebuck contributed to this article, as did Erin McCarthy.