(Photo: Evan Habeeb, USA TODAY Sports)
The NCAA's executive committee announced Tuesday it would gradually restore football scholarships to Penn State University due to "continued progress toward ensuring athletics integrity."
"This action provides an opportunity to recognize Penn State's significant momentum," said Nathan Hatch, president of the NCAA Board of Directors, "while also providing opportunities for student athletes."
The scholarships were cut as part of an NCAA punishment in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal.
The $60 million fine imposed by the NCAA and Penn State's postseason football ban remain in effect, though the length of the postseason ban may be shortened based on the school's continued progress, the NCAA said.
Beginning next in the 2014-15 academic school year, five additional initial scholarships will be restored to the university's football team, with the amount continually increasing until PSU reaches the full allocation of 25 initial in 2015-16 and 85 total football scholarships in 2016-17.
"Today's announcement by the NCAA is tremendous news," current 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. 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 athletics director Dave Joyner was pleased with the news, providing the following statement:
"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."
According to NCAA president Mark Emmert, the decision was not based on a request from Penn State, but based on observations made by former Sen. George Mitchell, independent Athletics Integrity Monitor, of changes he has seen at Penn State.
"While there is more work to be done, Penn State has clearly demonstrated its commitment to restoring integrity in its athletics program," said Mitchell. "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."
The NCAA handed down the sanctions in July 2012, less than two weeks after the release of the Freeh Report and a little more than a month after Sandusky, a former Penn State football coach, was convicted of 45 counts of child abuse.
Sandusky is in prison serving a 30-to-60-year sentence. His attorneys are pursuing an appeal.
The NCAA sanctions called for:
- An annual reduction of 10 football scholarships, from 25 to 15, to be given out to incoming players.
-A four-year ban on football postseason play
- A $60 million fine against the university with the proceeds going toward combating child abuse. The school already has paid $12 million of that fine, but how the money will be distributed is the subject of ongoing legal action.
- The vacation of 111 of former coach Joe Paterno's victories from 1998-2011.
Mitchell was appointed to a five-year team as Penn State's athletics integrity monitor by the NCAA in August 2012.
According to an NCAA statement at the time, Mitchell was to "evaluate Penn State's compliance with NCAA sanctions and the Athletics Integrity Agreement it will execute with the NCAA and the Big Ten Conference. He will have broad access to the campus, personnel and records and can make any recommendations he believes are necessary for the university to comply with all of its requirements and enhance adherence to NCAA and Big Ten principles, values, ethics and rules. ... In his role as monitor, Mitchell will prepare quarterly progress reports for the NCAA, the Big Ten and Penn State's board of trustees."