Penn State's NCAA Sanctions Reduced

A significant number of scholarships are restored to the Nittany Lion football program to reward the university for meeting many recommendations of the Freeh Report and Athletics Integrity Agreement.

In July 2012, Penn State was hit with unprecedented sanctions stemming from the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. Tuesday, the NCAA again acted in unprecedented fashion, this time reducing the sanctions against the university.

On the advice of former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, the Independent Athletics Integrity Monitor for Penn State, the NCAA Executive Committee and Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors restored many of the scholarships that had been stripped from the PSU football program.

The Nittany Lions were facing a limit of 15 scholarships per year and 65 overall for the next four years under the terms of the initial sanctions. Now, the annual limit will be boosted to 20 next year and then 25 (the NCAA maximum) the following year. The overall limit will be 75 next year, 80 in 2015-16 and the NCAA maximum 85 after that.

Mitchell credited Penn State president Rodney Erickson and university leadership for implementing nearly all of the recommendations of the school-sponsored Freeh Report and its obligations to the it signed when the sanctions came down.

“The most important factor in my judgment is the positive response by the president of the university, his administration and the leadership of the Board of Trustees to implement (change) in a meaningful way,” Mitchell said. “And in the face of sometimes vocal and aggressive opposition, they've demonstrated an attitude that is commendable and deserves to be recognized in the manner the NCAA and Big Ten have now done.”

Mitchell said he recommended easing the scholarship limits to benefit “the maximum number of student-athletes.” But the number of scholarships restored and the timing of the process was up to the NCAA Executive Committee.

Earlier this month, Mitchell issues a glowing report on the progress Penn State has made in meeting the recommendations of the Freeh Report and Athletics Integrity Agreement.

“Our assessment would be from the Mitchell Report and our conversations with (Mitchell's team) that we can imagine Penn State being well ahead of schedule,” said LouAnna Simon, Michigan State president and chair of the NCAA Executive committee. “It seems appropriate and right to recognize that process.”

The door appears to be open for further reductions in the sanctions -- which include three more seasons of postseason ineligibility, a $60 million fine and the stripping of more than 100 wins -- though neither Mitchell nor anyone from the NCAA would offer specifics on that topic.

“It's premature to speculate what may or may not occur in the future,” Mitchell said. “This was a positive response to a positive action. As to the future, we'll have to make judgments in the future.”

However, Mitchell did allow that the possibility of further reductions in sanctions could serve as incentive for Penn State to continue on the path it is on.

The Big Ten is squarely behind the reduction in sanctions.

“On the basis of Senator Mitchell's briefing, the COPC reached consensus to support his recommendation to the NCAA,” said COPC Chair and Iowa President Sally Mason. “We support the NCAA's announcement today acting on that recommendation.”

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