The momentum is definitely shifting.

Six months after the NCAA body-slammed Penn State's football program with crippling sanctions in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, the real possibility exists that those sanctions could be reduced.

It's funny how things can change in just more than half a year.

Last July, the world was crashing down around Penn State football.

After months of investigation, the PSU-sponsored Freeh Report was released, condemning the school's leaders, including legendary head coach Joe Paterno, for their lack of action in the Sandusky case, suggesting those same leaders attempted to conceal the sad, sordid affair. Sandusky had been convicted on 45 counts of child molestation earlier last summer.

The national outrage quickly followed.

The NCAA and its publicity-hungry president, Mark Emmert, quickly piled on. Emmert saw an opening to make an example of Penn State and quiet the critics of his organization. Many have ripped the NCAA over the years for not being tough enough on rule-breakers -- especially elite football programs with serious financial clout. Emmert decided that definitely was not going to be the case with Penn State.

Emmert pummeled the Nittany Lions with one haymaker after another -- a $60 million fine, a four-year football postseason ban, a vacation of all wins dating to 1998 and drastic scholarship reductions. And oh yes, PSU players would be free to transfer immediately without having to sit out for a season.

PSU president Rodney Erickson meekly accepted the sanctions. He really had no choice. In that climate, Penn State couldn't afford to fight back. The national backlash would have been too great.

Erickson also said if Penn State didn't acquiesce, Emmert vowed that the school would get smacked with the death penalty. Some pundits even claimed the death penalty would've been preferable to the severe NCAA penalties.

Emmert had all the leverage at that time, and he knew it. National public opinion was firmly in his corner. He didn't even bother to have the NCAA conduct its own investigation. He simply accepted the Freeh Report at face value and based his sanctions on that.

Slowly, however, the tide has started to change.

Critics soon started to pick away at the findings in the Freeh Report. Former Penn State standout Franco Harris has been particularly vocal in his criticisms.

Then Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett announced that the state would file a federal antitrust lawsuit against the NCAA for its heavy sanctions against Penn State football. Corbett cited the economic hardship created in the state by the sanctions as his reason for the suit. The real reason for the suit was much more likely a blatant grab for votes by an unpopular politician.

No matter the reason, the lawsuit helped turn up the heat on the NCAA -- an organization that is already facing a multiple lawsuits that could seriously impact its future.

Then, within the last week, Emmert had to make the humiliating admission that the NCAA had badly botched a high-profile investigation into the University of Miami.

Suddenly, Emmert wasn't in such a strong position anymore.

Time, as it often does, has also helped turn down the heat on Penn State. The football team enjoyed a shockingly successful season on the field under new head coach Bill O'Brien, going 8-4. O'Brien won several national coach of the year awards, and the team's senior class was lavished with praise by the national media for its unwavering leadership abilities.

Penn State's coaches and players seemed to make all the right moves -- on and off the field -- in the past six months.

Suddenly, the Penn State brand wasn't quite so toxic anymore.

Not surprisingly, some more Pennsylvania politicians have now jumped into the fray. On Monday, two Pennsylvania congressmen said they wanted the NCAA to restore the scholarships taken away by the NCAA, claiming those sanctions unfairly punish innocent student-athletes. Politicians know a golden opportunity when they see it.

The "narrative," as Harris called it recently, is definitely changing in Penn State's favor, especially within the borders of the Keystone State.

Still, Penn State must be exceedingly careful. The school, if it is seen to be too aggressive in fighting NCAA sanctions, could again come under national fire for putting more value on its big-time football program than Sandusky's victims.

The school, of course, can claim that none of the actions being pursued are being instigated by the university itself. Instead it's politicians, former players, alumni and fans who are leading the charge.

The school may also be helped if it can soon settle numerous legal claims in the Sandusky case -- and that may happen. Last week, Penn State's negotiator for civil claims said the school has been in talks with 28 people and settlement discussions with some claimants could soon produce results.

If those settlements happen quickly, it will help quiet the critics who claim Penn State hasn't done enough for the victims.

Put all those circumstances together, and the possibility of getting the NCAA sanctions reduced seems very real.

Emmert and the NCAA are weakened and Penn State is in a stronger position than a year ago.

A quiet compromise would seem to be in order.

-- Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dispatch. He can be reached at sheiser@york