Penn State's football scholarships will be gradually restored by the NCAA Executive Committee due to the university's "continued progress toward ensuring athletics integrity," according to a statement released by the governing body.
This was confirmed by NCAA President Mark Emmert and Athletics Integrity Monitor George Mitchell in a conference call Tuesday.
The modification entails that five additional scholarships will be added to the Nittany Lions' program beginning next academic year (2014-2015), and the amount of restored scholarships will continue to increase.
"From the beginning, the goal of the Penn State sanctions and the Athletics Integrity Agreement has been to ensure that the university reinforces clear expectations," Emmert said, "and a daily mindset within athletics that the highest priority has to be placed on educating, nurturing and protecting young people, and to recognize the impact of the abuse on the lives of the victims in this case."
In light of the NCAA's announcement today that the sanctions levied on the Penn State football program will be reduced in regard to scholarship totals, the university released a statement Tuesday afternoon.
According to the statement, Penn State officials are happy to see that the progress the university has made has led to modifications to the original penalties, following former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky's child sex abuse case.
"Penn State officials are gratified by the decision of the NCAA Executive Committee to modify the scholarship limitations previously imposed on the University under the consent decree between the University and the NCAA," the statement reads. "This action, announced today, taken in recognition of Penn State's significant progress under and continued compliance with the Athletics Integrity Agreement, grants immediate relief from both the initial scholarship restrictions and overall team limit restrictions previously imposed on the University's football program."
Senator Mitchell, who is the athletics integrity monitor for Penn State, published a report on Sept. 6 that showed Penn State has "substantially completed" the initial implementation of all of former FBI investigator Louis Freeh's recommendations, including all of its annual duties under the Athletics Integrity Agreement.
Mitchell said he has made decisions based on the findings of his reports, where Penn State President Rodney Erickson and the leaders of the Board of Trustees "have acted with courage and fortitude" in regard to the changes suggested in the Athletics Integrity Agreement. He did note that those actions and statements haven't been without opposition, but Penn State has made a "serious good faith effort" to adopt these changes.
Mitchell has been overseeing Penn State's progress as the university's independent athletic integrity monitor and, as he has done so frequently, met with representatives of the NCAA and the Big Ten recently. This time, though, he recommended further action.
"In these circumstances, I believe it appropriate to recognize and reward the positive response by President Erickson and the university...and to hold up the prospect of further relief if they remain steadfast," Mitchell said in the call. "Accordingly, first, I recommended that first the NCAA provide modifications of the reductions in scholarships to the extent it deemed appropriate. Second, I recommended that the NCAA hold out the prospect of further mitigation in postseason eligibility. This, I believe, is appropriate and will create an incentive to stay the course for the new leadership that will take over on President Erickson's impending departure."
Erickson said in a release today that the news is especially positive considering the re-opened opportunity for some student athletes who will now have a greater opportunity of attending Penn State in the future.
"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," Erickson. "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."
Erickson also commended coach O'Brien, along with his players, for their continued dedication through such a tough time.
"The resiliency displayed by those young men, as well as our entire student body is something of which we are proud," Erickson said. "I would also like to thank the literally hundreds of University administrators, faculty, staff, students and alumni 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."
However, according to the NCAA's press release, the Executive Committee, in agreement with Mitchell's recommendation, will still enforce the existing $60 million fine, postseason ban and other sanctions.
Prior to the change, the full 85 scholarships were supposed to be restored by 2018-19.
Now, they'll be back to this total amount by 2016-17, and back to the 25 scholarships per year by 2015-16.
The statement noted that the committee may consider "additional mitigation" of the postseason ban if Penn State continues its progress.
“While there is more work to be done, Penn State has clearly demonstrated its commitment to restoring integrity in its athletics program,” Mitchell said in the release. “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.”