Citing progress toward restoring athletics integrity, the NCAA has announced they will begin cutting back on some of the scholarship reductions at Penn State, allowing the Nittany Lions to return to 85 scholarship by 2016-2017. The postseason ban is still in place and the remainder of a $60 million fine will still be paid off and no vacated wins have been restored, but the scholarship reduction is pretty significant.
After George Mitchell praised Penn State for their emphasis on following through with the NCAA's sanctions and recommendations to assure integrity as a program following the shocking Jerry Sandusky scandal, the NCAA's Executive Committee decided it was deserved to begin restoring scholarships to the football program. Penn State was reduced to allowing 15 scholarships per year as opposed to the normal 25 per year for a total of four years, reducing the total scholarship limit from 85 to 65 as well. The decision to return scholarships was discussed by the NCAA's Executive Committee as well as the presidents of the Big Ten before being voted on.
“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.”
Penn State will get back five scholarships to offer in the next academic year, 2014-2015, which means Penn State can now offer 20 scholarships instead of 15. The following year will increase the total to 25 and Penn State will be allowed to field a team with 85 scholarships by 2016-2017. From a program standpoint, this is huge. If there was one portion of the sanctions that was likely to be amended to any degree, the scholarship reductions were always the most likely to be reviewed.
“Providing relief from the scholarship restrictions will give more student-athletes an opportunity to attend Penn State on athletics scholarship while also creating an incentive for the university to continue its progress under new leadership after President Erickson’s impending departure,” said Mitchell.
Bill O'Brien recently said Penn State's recruiting could be unbelievable once they are allowed to recruit with a full set of scholarships. O'Brien and his staff have done well in his first two seasons despite a unique situation in his first month on the job and one year in to the sanctions. Penn State has Christian Hackenberg, one of the top Class of 2013 quarterbacks, already starting this season and tight end Adam Breneman is among the top at his position as well. Now that O'Brien will have more scholarships to offer, and the postseason ban halfway done by the end of this season, the recruiting pitch at Penn State will begin to be easier to sell to some and the selectiveness of the staff in offering scholarships will not be as restrictive.
One of the key phrases in the NCAA release also hinted the possibility of other sanctions being reduced in the future.
"Consistent with Mitchell’s recommendation, the Executive Committee agreed the existing postseason ban, $60 million fine to help fund child abuse programs and other sanctions outlined in the consent decree will remain in effect," the NCAA statement says. "However, the group may consider additional mitigation of the postseason ban in the future depending upon Penn State’s continued progress."
Now, this does not guarantee the postseason ban at Penn State will be eliminated, but perhaps reducing the four-year ban to three years could be a possibility. I would not count on anything happening for this season, and probably not next year, but the NCAA is saying there is a chance it could happen. As for the $60 million fine, I'm not expecting that to be reduced by one penny. However, if it were to be reduced, I still say it would be a good move if Penn State committed to paying off the remainder of the fine. The school has already made one payment toward the overall sum, which was allowed to be paid off over the terms of the original sanctions.