By David F. Cohen

July 24 marked the second anniversary of the NCAA hammer on Penn State’s football program in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State.

“I think we’ve done everything right,” Penn State linebacker Mike Hull (photo above) told CBSSports.com. “I don’t think we did anything wrong in the first place.”

But those Nittany Lions players are still suffering the same penalties that were handed down in 2012. Among them, a four-year bowl ban that affected young adults who had nothing to do with the scandal. That alone may have turned up the current heat on the NCAA and president Mark Emmert.

“It was basically the worst thing you can do to the program,” Hull said at Big Ten media days last week, “aside from the death penalty.”

They came to Penn State to play football. They will leave better men. Contrary to some predictions, Penn State football did not burn to the ground. Far from it. Bill O’Brien kept the program afloat, winning eight and seven games despite having no postseason to sell to his players or recruits.

That’s 15 wins, the same amount as a fully loaded Michigan had in the same two seasons.

The NCAA healed some wounds by giving Penn State back some scholarships last year. This year would have been the beginning of a four-year span during which Penn State would be reduced to 65 scholarships per year. That’s basically down to the FCS (Division I-AA) level.

That won’t be the case. It looks like NCAA’s attempted arson of the program will be doused. There’s a future for Penn State football, something that couldn’t be assured two years ago. In that sense, the ongoing lesson is that the NCAA never should have punished the innocents in the locker rom.

It’s time to rescind the remaining two years of the bowl ban.

“It would obviously be big,” coach James Franklin said. “We don’t even talk about it but I do think it would be a shot of enthusiasm and excitement.”

Franklin’s high-profile arrival has put the happy back in Happy Valley. It has overshadowed the dark times. No matter what the situation, there will be no excuses for one of the most vibrant coaches in the country.

“It’s very black and white, we live by that,” Franklin said of the penalties. “If someone tells us something different down the road — [it’s] gravy, icing on the cake, bonus.”

Penn State is in the process of proving what was evident all along. It is one of the five or 10 schools in the country that could survive such sanctions. It happened at USC. It’s happening in State College. Penn State was picked fourth in the Big Ten East by the media. The Nittany Lions finished second and third in their division in the first two years post-Sandusky. That’s not football Armageddon.

What’s amazing now is the players are all out there for the thrill of it. That’s the way it’s supposed to be, right? Franklin can’t sell his players or recruits on a postseason rainbow.

Out of an ugly past has come some purity.

“You play for more than just going to a bowl,” Hull said. “You prove yourself every single Saturday out there. You play because you love the game.”

Every day that goes by, all of them at Penn State are able to talk more football. O’Brien told reporters last spring he had 67 scholarship players. Then he went out and beat Michigan and Wisconsin while winning those seven games.

Franklin goes into this season with 72 scholarship players, 13 fewer than the maximum. There will be no excuses from a football program on the mend. Let’s hope there is common sense from the organization overseeing it.

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