The term "Nittany" is widely believed to derive from Mount Nittany, meaning "single mountain" as coined by the Algonquian-speaking tribes of Pennsylvania.
Mount Nittany -- a divisive geographic structure that separates Nittany Valley from Penns Valley -- naturally shared it's name with the wild cats that once roamed its wilderness. A mascot adopted by Penn State, "Nittany" also helps explain the men who thought of their single needs first -- creating a divide between the victims of Jerry Sandusky and the mirage of all we once believed to be so great about Happy Valley.
But the rift hasn't stopped there.
Little did the natives know how symbolically prophetic their terminology would be. The home to the Nittany Lions -- Penn State University -- has become a splitting wedge that has pushed emotions to opposite extremes and now is witness to the growing departure of current and future football players as the full effect of NCAA sanctions start to hit the program.
Those very penalties levied by the NCAA were heavy in the long term. While short of a "death penalty," the four-year ban on postseason play and extended scholarship limitations are sure to hurt Penn State football and make the road to relevance a difficult one. As much as it may hurt to speculate on what the future holds, the truth is that enough problems exist in the current moment to distract from what the next decade brings.
The immediate response to the Jerry Sandusky scandal helped many people see just how loyal the folks in Happy Valley were to the "good" that Penn State and Joe Paterno stood for. So it was a legitimate waiting game to see how current Nittany Lions players would respond when the NCAA allowed them the freedom to leave without restrictions.
Would the unquestioned culture of loyalty hold captive the players as well?
Things moved slow at first, but "free agency exodus" has been a light term for what has transpired over the past week.
At first, new Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien went into full damage control mode, hoping to focus on the pro-potential and academic bonuses of playing for his staff and at an excellent educational institution.
Immediate reports looked bright for Penn State as players stepped forward and reaffirmed their commitment to the program. The weekend following the NCAA sanctions, as many as six PSU recruits visited coach O'Brien to assure him and his staff they would still be future Nittany Lions.
But since then the news has been anything but sunshine.
Four-star recruits Ross Douglas (DB) and Greg Webb (DT) recanted their college choice and have decided on Michigan and North Carolina, respectively.
The loss of current players -- especially those of key starters -- has been the most inevitable and painful. None bigger than the loss of junior halfback Silas Redd who has departed for USC. Just as the sting of Redd's break-up started to pass, quarterback Rob Bolden decided to head south for LSU, followed by safety Tim Buckley to NC State, tight end Kevin Haplea to Florida State, and linebacker Kahairi Fortt to California.
Rest your wrist, let your graphite cool, and then turn the page for more.
Also on the way out are offensive tackle Ryan Nowicki (Illinois), defensive tackle Jamil Pollard (Rutgers), and kicker Anthony Fera (Texas). The more players leave, the more others second-guess their decision to stay. It's quite possible Penn State may be fielding something resembling a junior-varsity squad by the time September 1st rolls around.
With every chance to end the senseless acts of Jerry Sandusky, the failed leadership at Penn State chose to stand quietly between two choices. How fitting that the "Nittany" they stood for perfectly defined their actions. Singular and divisive.
But the players are making their own moves now -- refusing to be indirect victims of the madness. Moving anywhere but the mountain. As far away from the valley as possible.
The Lion they take with them -- the Nittany they leave behind.
How many games will Penn State win in 2012?
Justin Mikels is a staff writer for Operation Sports. Follow him on Twitter @long_snapper.