STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — The NCAA will restore the scholarships Penn State lost in the crushing sanctions imposed after the Jerry Sandusky scandal, as the organization recognizes that that university has pushed ahead with “significant momentum” to make sweeping changes to the way it runs.
Penn State’s football team will see five scholarships added back each year starting in 2014-2015, with the full complement of 85 scholarships set for 2016-2017, NCAA officials said Tuesday in announcing the modification to the sanctions.
The NCAA’s executive committee approved giving back the scholarships after a recommendation from former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell of Maine, who was appointed by the NCAA to oversee Penn State’s progress in adopting a number of reforms to enhance its security, ethics, governance and compliance structure. Mitchell, who said he had been given unfettered access to documentation and employees, praised Penn State’s efforts in the first yearly progress report, which was issued earlier this month.
Under the terms of the NCAA’s consent decree, Penn State was required to adopt all of the 119 recommendations in former FBI director Louis Freeh’s report, and the university put in place all but a few. The Freeh recommendations include requiring background checks on new employees, restricting access to athletics facilities and the hiring of a staff member to ensure the university complies with federal crime-reporting requirements.
The university also had followed the terms of an athletics integrity agreement, which lays out specific requirements for the athletics department.
Many in the Penn State community were hopeful that Mitchell’s positive progress report would pave the way for the NCAA to have a change of heart.
Mitchell said Penn State had made a “good-faith effort to embrace and adopt the changes needed to enhance its future.”
“While there is more work to be done, Penn State has clearly demonstrated its commitment to restoring integrity in its athletics program,” Mitchell said Tuesday. “The university has substantially completed the initial implementation of all the Freeh Report recommendations and its obligations to the Athletics Integrity Agreement, so relief from the scholarship reductions is warranted and deserved.”
NCAA President Mark Emmert said the move to ease up on the scholarship reduction was an “important recognition of the university’s progress.”
The NCAA also will consider rescinding the postseason bowl ban if Penn State continues to show progress, officials said. That would be an incentive for Penn State to continue its work, said LouAnn Simon, the chairwoman of the NCAA’s executive committee and the president of Michigan State University.
There was no word about whether the other sanctions could be included, such as the $60 million fine and the erasing of 112 victories from the history books.
Penn State leaders were thankful for the NCAA’s decision.
“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,” Penn State President Rodney Erickson said in a statement. “As we promised throughout this process, we are committed to continuing to improve all of our policies, procedures and actions.”
Trustees board Chairman Keith Masser commended Erickson and university employees for their work to implement the reforms that led to NCAA’s actions.
Coach Bill O’Brien, who briefed trustees in July about a possible request to the NCAA to modify the sanctions, was equally as gratified.
“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,” O’Brien said. “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.”
Distributed by MCT Information Services