A lot of eyes were focused on State College, Pennsylvania and Penn State on Saturday, as the Nittany Lions opened the team’s first season in nearly 50 years without Joe Paterno as head coach.

Even more though than the absence of Paterno, most want to know how the school would fare under the weight of some of the most serious sanctions ever levied against a major college football program.

The immediate answer is not very well.  Penn State playing at home lost to the Ohio University Bobcats 24-14.

On paper Ohio University was not the toughest test for Penn State, but the Bobcats nonetheless provided a measuring stick to examine the resiliency of a team that will have to find ways other than polls, bowl games, and championships to motivate itself for at least the next five years.

I think most of us agree that Penn State deserved to be severely punished for its role in essentially enabling some of the horrendous crimes against children committed by Jerry Sandusky, and what now appears to be a cover up involving the late football coach Joe Paterno and the school’s administration.

I also think we can agree that the crippling penalties levied by the NCAA have nothing to do with the current coaching staff and players at Penn State.

Rhetorically we’ll continue to ask, is this fair?  The answer is the same as it has been for months.  No, it isn’t fair, not to the players, coaches or the fans that support the program.  But as the old saying goes: “life isn’t fair.”

And knowing that the penalties will not be appealed, the only issue is how everyone involved responds and what lessons can be learned.

I have watched several interviews with new Penn State head coach Bill O’Brien and some of his players in the last few days and have come away with a much better understanding of what may be ahead for the Penn State football program.

Players who have a chance to make a name for themselves, have been asked to sacrifice their dreams to play for championships and perhaps millions later in the NFL in order to maintain a commitment to a university and a football program that has been shorn of its once vaunted status and even vilified.

And you’re asking a talented coaching staff to commit to five or more years of less than stellar play from the team, because there will be fewer top tier athletes coming because of mandated scholarship reductions, and because future recruits will likely want to play at schools not hampered by sanctions.

But what I saw in the eyes of some of the some of the players and the head coach prior to the game was a look of resolve and commitment that I found inspiring.

How that resolve holds up after an unexpected opening day loss though remains to be seen, and may have some wondering if Penn State has any chance this season against its even stronger Big Ten rivals.

For the first time in ages, Penn State’s mammoth 100,000 seat football stadium, which was built by the tireless efforts of Joe Paterno who turned Penn State into a national powerhouse, was not full.

And with JoePa dead and gone, and his legacy in shambles, combined with an opening day loss to a team it would have crushed most other years, the rest of this season and the next five years will probably provide the toughest test of loyalty and patience ever witnessed at Penn State.

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