The Nits play tough Maryland tomorrow.

By David F. Cohen

The ice is melting under Penn State coach James Franklin, and his boss came to his defense yesterday.

Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour encouraged patience with the football program as it emerges from NCAA sanctions, saying she believes coach James Franklin is the long-term answer and that the program continues to reflect the positive values Joe Paterno instilled.

Barbour told ESPN that there are “factual realities” about Penn State in the post-sanctions era make the on-field recovery slower than some expect. She also noted the initial predictions about the penalties Penn State incurred in 2012, which some described as worse than the so-called “death penalty.”

Penn State hasn’t had a losing season since the NCAA imposed sanctions, including major scholarship losses, but the Nittany Lions also haven’t challenged for the Big Ten title since their postseason ban was lifted.

Franklin, in his third season at Penn State, is 17-14 and 7-11 in Big Ten play. He signed a six-year contract with Penn State in January 2014.

“I get there’s a frustration with where we are,” Barbour said. “I’d be worried if there wasn’t. I want Penn State football to stand for excellence. Always has and always will. To some degree, I want our fans to be impatient, but I also want them to understand factual challenges.”

Barbour noted the slower recoveries of other programs facing scholarship losses — Miami, Alabama, USC — and noted that 77 of Penn State’s players have freshman or sophomore eligibility. Penn State returned to its full complement of scholarships this season. Strengthening her endorsement of Franklin last week to The Altoona (Pennsylvania) Mirror, Barbour told ESPN, “There’s no doubt in my mind that James is going to be our football coach long term.”

“We were so fortunate to have coach Paterno for so long,” Barbour added. “He helped shape Penn State’s values for so long. He was a huge part of it. James Franklin is embodying the same values: the academic piece, the social and cultural parts, the community service. The piece that’s a little slow to come is the competitive piece.

“If we were having issues academically or graduation rate-wise or APR or having a lot of student-athletes getting in trouble in community, I’d have the same criticisms and I wouldn’t be able to defend it because we control those things.”

Barbour referenced Paterno’s “grand experiment” and program motto — success with honor — as “things that live on today” at Penn State. The school has received criticism for publicly acknowledging Paterno, its coach from 1966 until his firing in November 2011 amid the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.

Penn State on Sept. 17 recognized the 50th anniversary of Paterno’s first game as coach and honored players from his 1966 team.

“What I’m not challenged by is some of the really, really positive influences of Paterno, the things that he’s a huge part of shaping over time Penn State’s values: a focus on academics, a focus on service,” Barbour said. “The challenge, given what Penn State has been through, is that at the same time, the Sandusky scandal and the tragedies of the young people who were victims, none of us go disconnected from that.

“Talking about some of the incredible things coach Paterno did and his legacy here is not mutually exclusive to being concerned about the health and welfare of the children, or being concerned about Jerry Sandusky’s victims.”

Barbour has received mixed responses from Penn State fans since her initial endorsement of Franklin, which she expected.

“They need to take it as a body of work,” she said. “Are we showing progress? Where are we at the end of the season in terms of our development in a new offensive scheme? Where are we in the development of a really young defense? Where are we with the development of our student-athletes, the identity of the program.

“Those are the things our fans need to be looking at.”

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