NCAA to restore Penn State football scholarships
Published: September 24, 2013
More than a year after it handed down potentially crippling sanctions against Penn State, the NCAA has done an about-face.
The NCAA announced Tuesday afternoon that it has drastically reduced the most stringent of the sanctions it imposed against Penn State on July 23, 2012 as punishment for the findings of the Freeh Report, restoring five football scholarships per year until, staring in 2014.
Coach Bill O'Brien and his staff will be able to recruit 20 players in the recruiting class of 2014 — five more than originally allowed. By 2015, the Nittany Lions can hand out the full 25 scholarship maximum to incoming freshmen. In 2016, they will have the full gamut of 25 scholarships for recruits and 85 overall for the team to distribute.
The gradual restoration of scholarships will put Penn State on equal footing, roster-wise with nonsanctioned FBS schools a full two years earlier than originally anticipated.
Former U.S. senator George Mitchell (D-Maine), who has served for the past year as the independent athletics integrity monitor for Penn State, said Tuesday that he recommended — to the NCAA and Big Ten — that sanctions be reduced because Penn State has "substantially completed" more than 120 tasks outlined in the Athletics Integrity Agreement the university and NCAA agreed to as part of the initial sanctions.
"My recommendation was not made on any feeling the sanctions imposed were inappropriate or unduly harsh," Mitchell said. "Penn State has made a serious, good-faith effort to embrace and adopt the changes to enhance its future.
"Penn State has consistently demonstrated a strong commitment to fulfilling the requirements of the Athletics Integrity Agreement."
Earlier this month, Mitchell released his first annual report on Penn State, keeping the NCAA and Big Ten abreast of the changes the athletics department made after the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal rocked the university. He said Penn State has hired its first athletics integrity officer and appointed appropriate oversight of intercollegiate athletics among top university leadership, among its many positive steps forward.
Mitchell noted that other universities have begun to model their oversight systems after the changes Penn State has made, further calling the university's efforts "groundbreaking work."
Further reduction of sanctions could come in the future, Mitchell recommended, as a means of motivating leadership after the tenure of current university president Rodney Erickson ends. Erickson as indicated he will step down when his term ends in June 2014.
That means, the NCAA will at some point consider lifting the bowl ban, which as it stands, will keep Penn State out of postseason play until the 2016 season. However, officials would not commit to a time when they would consider relaxing that sanction, not even dismissing a question about whether it could happen as soon as this season.
"If you'll recall, the Athetics Integrity Agreement included a reconsideration (of the sanctions) after two years," said Michigan State president LouAnna Simon, the chair of the NCAA executive committee. "Given Sen. Mitchell's reports and the extent of progress at Penn State, the decision was made to act prior to that. I think it's inappropriate to speculate beyond that."