Sep 24, 2013 04:04 PM EDT
NCAA Lessens Sanction Against Penn State: Will Gradually Restore Scholarships and Maybe Bowl Eligibility Next Season
The NCAA executive board has decided to ease up on some of the penalties facing Penn State, allowing the athletics department to regain their scholarships ahead of schedule.
ESPN reported the other penalties will remain in place, including the bowl ban through the 2015 season, the $60 million fine and all wins from 1998 to 2011 remaining vacated. However, the NCAA also announced that the bowl ban could potentially be lifted in the near future.
Penn State was looking at only 65 scholarships in 2014, but now will have 75, increasing to 80 in 2015 and the full allotment of 85 in 2016.
"The executive committee's decision to restore football scholarship opportunities for more student-athletes at Penn State is an important recognition of the university's progress -- and one I know it was pleased to make," NCAA president Mark Emmert said.
Just over a year ago, Emmert announced what were likely the harshest penalties in the history of the NCAA in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal. The penalties were levied against the school and athletic department for various administrators' and coaches' roles in covering up the abuse of several young boys over several years.
Earlier this month, former Sen. George Mitchell, appointed as Penn State's Athletics Integrity Monitor, released a glowing report of the school's progress. He said Penn State was making "notable progress" in adopting the changes recommended by former FBI director Louis Freeh. Freeh released a report following Sandusky's arrest outlining 119 recommendations for Penn State to make and Mitchell has been the one appointed to oversee the school's efforts.
This month's report was his first annual report and, while he said the school's administration has shown exemplary progress, there is still work to be done.
"Penn State has consistently demonstrated a strong commitment to fulfilling the requirements of the athletics integrity commitment," said Mitchell. "The amount of time, energy and resources devoted to these efforts have been notable."
Emmert was sure to specify the reduction was not a result of the NCAA backpedaling on harsh sanctions, but that it is a sign of good faith that Penn State had diligently followed through on the recommended changes.
Mitchell recommended after his report was published Sept. 6 the NCAA reduce the sanctions. While it is highly unlikely Penn State be declared eligible to play in a bowl game this postseason, NCAA officials did not rule out that possibility for next year.
"We have to keep doing what we're doing, which is working extremely hard to do what's right," Penn State head football coach Bill O'Brien said. "We can't go to a bowl or compete for a championship, but we definitely can get more on an even playing field numbers-wise and that's what we're concentrating on as a staff."
Emmert said upon handing down the sanctions that goal was to change the "football first" culture at Penn State and at any school who valued athletics ahead of all else. He declined to comment on whether the school still had that problem.
"The goal has always been to ensure the university reinforces clear expectations and a daily mindset within athletics that the highest priority must be placed on educating, nurturing and protecting young people," Emmert said in an NCAA press release. "The Executive Committee's decision to restore the football scholarships provides additional education opportunities and is an important recognition of Penn State's progress."
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