In a stunning reversal, the NCAA has opted to gradually restore scholarships to the Penn State football team and opened the door for further reductions of the sanctions imposed in July 2012.
Former senator George Mitchell, who has been overseeing Penn State’s implementation of changes following the Jerry Sandusky scandal, made the recommendation to the NCAA’s executive board to reduce the penalties.
“Penn State has consistently demonstrated a strong commitment to fulfilling the athletics integrity agreement,” Mitchell said Tuesday. “The recommendation was based on my belief that Penn State has made a serious good faith effort to embrace the changes needed.”
As a result, Penn State will have five scholarships restored beginning with the 2014 recruiting class. The program will be allowed to return to the full 25 scholarships per year and 85 overall by the 2016-17 season.
Both restrictions on the program’s scholarships will end two years earlier than originally scheduled.
“Today’s announcement by the NCAA is tremendous news,” Penn State coach Bill O’Brien said in a statement. “As a staff, we are especially pleased for our players, who have proven themselves to be a resilient group of young men who are able to look ahead, focus and overcome adversity.
“The scholarship additions will allow us to provide more student-athletes with a tremendous opportunity to earn that degree and play football for Penn State.”
Penn State can offer 20 scholarships (up from 15) per year beginning in 2014-15 and will be back to full capacity the next year.
Originally, the Nittany Lions were supposed to be at the reduced overall limit of 65 scholarships for the start of the 2014-15 season. Instead they would be allowed to field a 75-scholarship squad next season, rising to 80 the following year and back to 85 as normal after that.
Though the NCAA did not alter other aspects of the sanctions — namely the postseason ban and the $60 million fine — it left the door open that future compliance could reduce those penalties as well.
“It would be inappropriate to speculate on hypotheticals,” NCAA president Mark Emmert said.
Check back to timesleader.com for more updates.
REACTIONS TO NCAA’S DECISION:
Penn State coach Bill O’Brien
“Today’s announcement by the NCAA is tremendous news. As a staff, we are especially pleased for our players, who have proven themselves to be a resilient group of young men who are able to look ahead, focus and overcome adversity. Penn State has long been known for graduating its student-athletes and providing them with a world class education. The scholarship additions will allow us to provide more student-athletes with a tremendous opportunity to earn that degree and play football for Penn State.”
Penn State president Rodney Erickson
“The action taken today by the NCAA, following its review of the positive report issued this month by Sen. George Mitchell, recognizes the significant efforts over the past year to make Penn State a safer, stronger institution. This news is certainly welcome to our University community, particularly the student athletes who may want to attend Penn State and will now have the means to do so. As we promised throughout this process, we are committed to continuing to improve all of our policies, procedures and actions.
“The resiliency displayed by those young men, as well as our entire student body is something of which we are proud. I would also like to thank the literally hundreds of University administrators, faculty, staff and students whose hard work over the past 15 months helped lay the groundwork not only for this action by the NCAA but, even more importantly, for a better Penn State.”
Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner
“I am very happy for Coach O’Brien, the football coaches and staff and the players; especially pleased for our current and future student-athletes, who are the most important reason why we love working in intercollegiate athletics. We will continue to work hard within the Athletics Integrity Agreement to fully comply and to achieve excellence in everything we do at Penn State.”
Statement from Paterno family
“Over the last 14 monhts it has become clear to open-minded people that the Freeh Report is deeply flawed and the actions by the NCAA were precipitous and unjust. This action begins to correct the mistakes of the Board of Trustees, Mr. Freeh and the NCAA.”
Jay Paterno, via Twitter
“NCAA give back SOME PSU scholarships? Why not ALL? ANY football sanctions are still an affront to the truth.”
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz
“I think that whole (sanctions) thing is a bad deal, so hopefully some steps are taken to make it a little more fair.”
Illinois coach Tim Beckman
“This game of football is about the student-athletes. So any time we give more opportunities for student-athletes to play, I’m all for it. … I think (sanction reductions) would be definitely a good thing for college football.”
Purdue coach Darrell Hazell
“We’re all in this business to help kids out. Any time you can help some people out, I think that’s why we do this. I haven’t heard many of the details, but I’m happy for Penn State. They’re able to get into a situation where they can help people out and not punish people who had nothing to do with what tragically happened in the past.”