Five years ago, if you told me Penn State would be entering the season as the defending Big Ten champions, I would have bet my house.
The atmosphere in an NCAA conference room on July 23, 2012, was that of lingering death. Though Mark Emmert and the NCAA didn't technically apply the death penalty that day, they gave Penn State a blindfold and a cigarette before parading it in front of a firing squad.
Barry Switzer said the Nittany Lions would soon resemble an FCS program.
Rival coaches descended onto the campus like retirees scanning the beach with metal detectors. Juniors and seniors suddenly were allowed to transfer without penalty. It was a collegiate swap meet.
Countless victims have shattered lives that will never be repaired.
Emmert, five years later, defended the decision with the same fervor he did that day in Indianapolis, Indiana. The NCAA, he reiterated this month, had every right to interpret the NCAA Constitution to penalize Penn State.
"I was surprised, I guess, by some of the reaction that … the worst thing that could happen to the university was the football team losing some scholarships," Emmert said, "rather than the worst thing that could happen to the university is to have children raped in the lockerroom."
Emmert was at least referring to former Penn State assistant Mike McQueary famously testifying he saw something "extremely sexual" involving Jerry Sandusky and young boy in the Penn State facility's showers.
Though he was eventually sent to jail for at least 60 years for molesting young boys, Sandusky was actually acquitted of that charge.
"What is his f---ing problem?" Jay Paterno said of Emmert. Jay's family recently dropped a long-standing lawsuit against the NCAA.
Emotions remain raw. Memories have hardly faded.
It remains hard to believe Sunday marks five years since the announcement of those penalties that ripped apart Penn State, college athletics and the NCAA. The victims continue to suffer mightily.
It's equally hard to believe Penn State won a Big Ten title a mere four years, four months and 10 days later. It's taken five coaches (including interims), dogged recruiting and the NCAA coming to its senses by rescinding a large portion of those original penalties.
"The odds were zero," said Mike Mauti, a senior linebacker in 2012, of the team's chances of winning a Big Ten title within five years. "There was not a snowball's chance in hell."
Despite massive acts of hypocrisy, though, lessons were learned. The game has changed. College athletics now has a heightened awareness of sexual assault, too, if only haltingly.
CBS Sports used that Big Ten title to frame the fifth anniversary through the eyes of four central figures: Emmert, Mauti, current Penn State coach James Franklin and Jay Paterno, Joe's son, a former Penn State quarterbacks coach and now the voice of his family.
Franklin remembers the walk-ons. There weren't any when he arrived in 2014. The Pennsylvania native had grown up in the same neighborhood as former coach Bill O'Brien. He had attended a Penn State camp as a kid winning a quarterback accuracy competition.
"I won that competition," he said kiddingly. "I don't know why I didn't get a scholarship."
The first time he saw Beaver Stadium for a game was running out of the tunnel for the 2014 opener. O'Brien had left the program in good hands after winning 15 games in two seasons before splitting for the NFL.
Franklin came to State College having won nine games twice at lowly Vanderbilt. But nothing could prepare him for this.
"There were no walk-ons," he said. "We had seven players on our team that never played high school football. We went around to all the fraternities getting guys to try out.
"They had a walk-on program there but -- as you can imagine with [an academic reputation of] 4.0 GPA, 32 ACT and tuition at $65,000 a year -- that's not what they came there for. I'm bringing that up because I felt like a lot of the lessons we went through at Vanderbilt was going to help us there."
If he was able to do it in the SEC at a Deep South Stanford, how hard could it be at Penn State? Very hard. There were seven scholarship offensive linemen. Franklin was used to about 17 in order to have any level of success at a foundational position.
"Everybody knows those players could transfer and play right away [after the sanctions]," he said. "What people don't know: Those players could quit and keep their scholarship. We had multiple players walking around campus with scholarships. Those kids could quit at any time during their five years at Penn State and keep their scholarships.
"My point is, if morning workouts were too hard or if camp was too challenging, they could quit. … Talk about putting a coach and putting leadership skills in a challenging position.
"How do you get them to be mentally and physically tough when they know they've got a way out of this thing?"
Franklin made the decision to redshirt large swaths of players the first two seasons. It paid off, rather surprisingly, in Year 3 with a Big Ten championship season. It ended with a stirring Rose Bowl performance that announced the Nittany Lions were back.
Franklin was voted Big Ten Coach of the Year. Perhaps that has caused us to reevaluate the man's coaching ability.
These three years have proven Franklin can roll up his sleeves, get down in the weeds and win at two places where he was at a recruiting disadvantage.
"That's also why I was offered a six-year contract. People knew it was going to [take] time," Franklin said. "… When you're at 65 scholarships, most coaches wouldn't redshirt. They'd play all those guys."
It's now OK to talk a bit more openly about football at Penn State. Franklin being the second permanent coach removed from Joe Paterno makes it so. So does winning a championship.
He had grown up four miles from the Philadelphia city limits but never was a big Penn State fan.
Certainly, Franklin didn't realize that Penn State would come calling a few years later. He is certainly sensitive to the fact the victims should come first, but added, "Billy had to deal with that."
O'Brien certainly did. The now-Houston Texans coach should be anointed some sort of football saint for .
"I don't know of many programs that could have survived it or won a conference championship in such a short period of time," Franklin said.
"Any other place," Mauti chimed in, "you would have thought it would a decade."
Mauti was ready to throw -- punches, that is, at Illinois coach Tim Beckman.
By the time the 2012 Big Ten Media Days rolled around in Chicago, seniors like Mauti had been declared free agents by the NCAA. The linebacker from New Orleans had organized a solidarity rally on campus among seniors that got national attention.
"We weren't going anywhere," Mauti remembers. "We're not the perpetrators here. We feel for the victims, but we're staying."
Mostly they did stay -- those juniors and seniors who could have transferred. But not without pain. The de facto free agency caused an unsavory raid of Penn State players by rival coaches.
Beckman famously sent eight coaches to State College hunting Nittany Lions.
"[Coaches] were at the airport waiting," Mauti said. "'Hey, hop on a jet.' They were hanging out at apartments. It was a meat market."
Mauti, especially, didn't appreciate it.
"I had some words for Beckman at the Big Ten Media Days. It wasn't pleasant by any means," he said. "We were the last team to show up.
"The first guy who I saw … was Urban Meyer. He pulls me aside and says, 'Mike, if Beckman was on my campus, I'd be swinging right now.'
"That set the tone for media day. I was fired up already. That was like putting lighter to kerosene."
Mauti pulled his punches that day but was motivated enough to become an All-American linebacker that season. After four seasons in the NFL, he is working out for teams this summer as a free agent.
One of those was the Texans.
"There are plenty of lessons, believe me," Mauti said. "The obvious lesson is from the child abuse. Really, the succumbing to court of public opinion and the way the media has an effect on the perception of the program. We kind of got caught in the middle of it as players."
The Freeh Report that Penn State acquiesced to has proven to be flawed. The school agreed to an NCAA consent decree -- basically with a gun to its head.
There was never a losing record in these five seasons. What's left is a war story Mauti can tell his children. He got over 40 scholarship offers as a Penn State senior.
"At least," he said. "My high school coach called me the first day and said, 'What the hell is going on up there?' He had to unplug his phone. At the end of the day that was most fulfilling season of football."
in his home for six hours. Four of them were in casual conversation after I turned off my tape recorder.
Conclusion: He is brilliant, partisan, a loyal son and a lightning rod.
As an assistant coach for his dad for 17 years, Jay witnessed some of the highest highs of Penn State football. When the Sandusky scandal broke, he became the de facto spokesman for his family, staunchly defending his father.
"There's no evidence," Jay said of that controversial Freeh Report. "It's completely wrong as it relates to our football program, certainly as it relates to Joe Paterno."
The situation was … and still is … a whirlwind. Four days after the grand jury presentment in 2011, Joe Paterno was fired. Slightly over two months later, he died from lung cancer.
That Freeh Report largely blamed Joe for lack of oversight in the scandal.
A Paterno family suit filed against the NCAA was recently dropped. Jay has been elected to the Penn State board of trustees, the same group that once fired his dad.
Jay said it was "a call to service." His term begins this month.
"He would be happy to see -- I'm guessing -- kids are still going to school, still graduating, still representing the state," Jay said of his father. "One thing the NCAA sanctions did was really galvanize Penn Staters."
If it was only that easy. The NCAA sanctions that stripped his father of 111 of his career wins were eventually reinstated along with half of the four-year bowl ban and scholarships.
"The sanctions were lessened because the NCAA [was] facing the guns of litigation," Jay said. "They can deny all they want. … Certainly my family was involved in it. There was an effort by a lot of people to get Penn State back to where they are on the field and off the field."
Mark Emmert looked imperial.
He had to be on that day five years ago. Accompanied by then-NCAA Executive Committee chair Ed Ray and a strong resolve, he laid the sentence on Penn State.
For the first time, the NCAA had applied athletic and financial penalties on a school without a formal investigation.
"The NCAA was in the right spot here," Emmert told CBS Sports this month.
Not everyone agrees. The legacy of the Penn State case has to include the unique nature of the penalties. They had never been applied before and may never be applied again.
"The allegations of sexual abuse anywhere are horrific," Emmert said. "I don't mean to diminish that, but the Penn State case -- I think everyone who looks at it will agree -- is the most shocking thing we've ever seen in college sports."
Of course, but did the NCAA have any business poking its nose in a criminal manner? When the penalties came down, Sandusky had been convicted a month earlier. Key Penn State leaders had been accused of crimes.
To many, the NCAA played judge, jury and Emmert.
"If we can cast our mind back five years ago, these were children being raped in the football facilities with allegations the university didn't do enough," Emmert reiterated. "Indeed, the perpetrator of those crimes was doing it in the context of the facilities of the university.
"That constitutes a very [significant] difference."
After Penn State, Emmert survived criticism both from inside and outside the NCAA. It wouldn't be the first time his.
But the rescinding of the penalties -- which began only 14 months later -- begged the question: What was this really about?
Power? Football? Crime? Emmert?
For this story, I asked the NCAA chief the same question I asked him five years ago. Would the association ever think of applying these type penalties again?
"If those circumstances popped up, God forbid at some institution, some other date, I suspect [the Board of Governors] would want to," he said. "I would hope that never occurs."
The date cannot pass without a recounting of change and hypocrisy.
Then, as now, Ed Ray remains the Oregon State president. He admitted under oath in 2015 that he had not read the Freeh Report nor the consent decree drafted by the NCAA.
In other words, the second most powerful person in that room five years ago had little basic knowledge of why Penn State was being penalized.
Last month, Ray stated he "does not condone" the conduct of Oregon State pitcher Luke Heimlich. However, Heimlich wasdespite being a registered sex offender. Heimlich admitted to abusing a six-year-old girl who was reportedly a relative.
Heimlich eventually removed himself from NCAA tournament competition. As of now, he is eligible to return to the team.
And what of the Baylor and Michigan State situations?
Baylor was found to have ignored sexual assaults on its campus by football players. Three of Art Briles' former staff members have found work despite an investigative conclusion that "choices made by football staff … posed a risk to campus safety…"
Michigan State president Lou Anna Simon presided over the university for at least part of the time when the former Spartans' gymnastics doctor allegedly sexually abused women.
"It's Penn State all over again," one of the victims lawyers said.
Simon was elected Executive Committee chair a week after the Penn State sanctions were handed down.
To date, the NCAA has shown no interest in penalizing either school similar to Penn State. However, Baylor is being investigated via the traditional enforcement process.
In April, Indiana banned all prospects with a history of domestic/sexual assault. First reaction: Everyone doesn't do this already?
Emmert told me the current Board of Governors is considering "a policy around what Indiana did."
speaking to teams about her traumatic experience. She has consulted with the NCAA.
Meanwhile, Emmert's words echo today the same way they did five years ago in Indianapolis.
"No matter what we do here today," he said, "there is no action we can take that will reduce [the victims'] pain and anguish."