The NCAA is giving itself a second chance. At the same time, it is coming to the aid of dozens of abused women who never had one themselves.

Before we move on with what is perhaps college athletics' biggest scandal to date, we must decide which of those sentences gets top billing. You see, in opening a formal investigation of Michigan State, the nation's most powerful amateur governing body must prove once again it is the best amateur governing body.

The track record -- for some -- is sketchy.

There are still those claiming an overreach by the NCAA in the Penn State case six years after the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

North Carolina seemingly committed widespread academic fraud for more than a decade. The violations were clear. The NCAA basically took a pass. 

In a case expected to come to trial this year, a defamation claim by a former USC football assistant may lay bare the entire enforcement process. That would come more than seven years after the original USC penalties were handed down.

What reasons, then, is the NCAA finding to investigate a case that -- like Penn State -- has been adjudicated by law enforcement at Michigan State?

Former Michigan State sports physician and USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar was sentenced Wednesday to 40-175 years in prison after pleading guilty to 10 counts of first degree criminal sexual conduct with children under the age of 16.

The NCAA's action in this case has kick-started a parallel narrative. There were over 150 women who testified at Nassar's sentencing hearing. This primarily has to be about their incredible pain.

But it also opens a new discussion into the NCAA's jurisdictional powers.

"I wouldn't call it window dressing, but it shows they're concerned," said a compliance source at an FBS school. "It's a smart move on their end."

The difference this time is there's a template. As painful as the Penn State intrusion was at the time, the NCAA felt it was cracking down on an out-of-control football culture. The NCAA Executive Committee claimed back then a series of unprecedented violations to the association's constitutions.

That upset more than some folks at Penn State who thought the NCAA had overstepped its traditional oversight of college sports.

A Michigan State probe is different -- and perhaps more on point. The NCAA has a way in to penalize if you consider just the testimony of former gymnast Larissa Boyd.

Boyd says she told Michigan State's gymnastics coach in 1997 that she was uncomfortable with Nassar's treatment. She was ignored and humiliated, made to think she was questioning the reputation of Nassar. 

We've come to this moment through a national awakening. Women's empowerment, #MeToo, the ongoing Baylor scandal -- and the Sandusky crimes -- have brought us all to a more enlightened place.

An NCAA investigation can't undo the pain suffered by those women, but it can plant a flag: The NCAA bylaws that govern athletics to be applied to violations of common human decency.  

After athletic directors everywhere get over their initial "this-could-be-me" shock, they'll realize a new day has dawned. They'd better get their athletic department in order.

An investigation makes more sense this time because the NCAA sent a letter of inquiry, meaning this is a formal enforcement matter. The potential violations of NCAA bylaws have been spelled out in the letter.

The letter of inquiry includes two citations to NCAA principles regarding student-athlete welfare.

The investigation has a face in enforcement director Jon Duncan. It has a clear set of rules. If the investigation goes that far, Michigan State would appear before the NCAA's infractions committee before any penalties would be handed down.

There will be no cram down. There will be the association's version of a formal jury trial even it is does provide scant due process.

What is a fair punishment for Michigan State? A death penalty for the gymnastics program? Think deeper. When the NCAA comes in, it investigates everything. Don't assume that Nassar worked just with gymnastics or there aren't still victims to come forward.

The negative comparisons with Penn State cannot be avoided, but perhaps the NCAA deserves a second chance like everyone else. It's just getting harder to see past the crap.

That parallel narrative has a dark side. This is a chance to rebuild the NCAA's reputation. It was caught completely unaware by the FBI investigation into basketball.

Meanwhile, Michigan State's reputation is in the gutter -- not just that of president Lou Anna Simon or the Spartans' athletic program but the university's brand as a whole.

If the NCAA -- and the members it represents -- can be trusted to do the right thing, it must get past this insidious link:

In 2014, Simon followed Oregon State president Ed Ray as NCAA Executive Committee chair, one of the association's most powerful positions. During his time as head of the committee, Ray admittedly failed to read the Freeh Report that was used to condemn Penn State.

While she was on the executive committee, Simon was basically signing Nassar's checks, apparently with little oversight.

Is Michigan State worse than Penn State? Before answering, consider that even Penn State got its own second chance. Complicating things, many of those original NCAA penalties were rescinded.

Whether the Michigan State scandal is worse is becoming less of an issue. An investigation into its athletic department is more accepted this time than the intrusion into Penn State. 

That national awakening continues.

I dug up the violations of the NCAA Constitution with which the association charged Penn State. Almost all of them apply to Michigan State as well.

Lack of institutional control? Yup. Nassar was allowed to abuse young women and girls for years. At last count, 144 of them showed to testify at Nassar's sentencing hearing.

Calls for Simon's resignation were met with this insensitive response from a Michigan State trustee:

"There's so many more things going on at the university than just this Nassar thing," said Joel Ferguson.

Yeah, like what?

Unethical conduct? Absolutely.

Honesty and sportsmanship? Where do you want to start?

Exemplary conduct requirement? Um, yeah.

"It's Penn State all over again," attorney Brian McKeen told MLive.com. McKeen is representing one of Nassar's victims. "You have the same kind of institutional failures involving multiple victims violated by a trusted staffer."

It was stunning Monday when a 15-year-old speaking at Nassar's sentencing hearing said her mother was still being charged by Michigan State for treatment the girl received while being abused.

It's not a question whether Simon or Michigan State can survive this. Can college athletics? The same Mark Emmert who pronounced the sentence on Penn State told reporters last week regarding Michigan State, "I don't have enough information [on] what transpired at the school right now."

Somehow, that perspective changed in a flash on Tuesday night. It wouldn't be the first time the Emmert-era NCAA stuck its finger in the air to gauge the wind direction of popular opinion.

But that's getting away from the twin narratives. There is no second chance for the victims at Penn State and Michigan State.

But in announcing a new, formal, by-the-book investigation, the NCAA may have also announced those victims have a new, powerful advocate.