The NCAA Executive Committee is reducing penalties levied against the Penn State football program following the sexual abuse scandal that rocked the university and the nation nearly two years ago, according to NCAA.org.
Per the news release, the NCAA is "gradually restoring football scholarships" that were lost over a year ago because of heavy sanctions placed on the university in July 2012. The NCAA cites Penn State's "continued progress toward ensuring athletics integrity" as the reason for the restored scholarships.
Cecil Hurt of the Tuscaloosa News notes another interesting detail about these developments from the NCAA's news release:
Interesting. NCAA may also consider "additional mitigation of the post-season ban" at Penn State.— Cecil Hurt (@CecilHurt) September 24, 2013
However, NCAA president Mark Emmert said that any decision on that won't be made in time for this year's postseason (via Joe Schad of ESPN).
Emmert not it's "not in anyone's mind" that Penn State could be declared bowl eligible for this season.— Joe Schad (@schadjoe) September 24, 2013
Penn State's independent Athletics Integrity Monitor George Mitchell, had the following response to the NCAA's decision, per NCAA.org:
While there is more work to be done, Penn State has clearly demonstrated its commitment to restoring integrity in its athletics program. 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 plans to reinstate five additional scholarships for the 2014-15 academic year, amounting to 20 initial and 75 total. The number will increase to 25 initial and 80 total scholarships in 2015-16 before returning to the full amount of 85 total scholarships by 2016-17.
Emmert stated that the restoration of scholarships was necessary in order to recognize the university's improvement, per 247Sports.com's Jeff Rice:
Mark Emmert: Decision to restore scholarships is "is an important recognition of the university's progress."— JeffRice247 (@JeffRice247) September 24, 2013
Penn State Athletic Director Dave Joyner commented on the news via Ben Jones of StateCollege.com:
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.
Jones was also able to get a statement from head coach Bill O'Brien:
Today’s announcement by the NCAA is tremendous news. As a staff, we are especially pleased for our players, who have proven themselves to be a resilient a group of young men. 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.
The NCAA came down hard on Penn State in the wake of the Freeh Report 14 months ago, which determined that the university failed to take the proper actions following multiple reports that former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky had sexually abused young boys on campus.
Penalties against Penn State included a $60 million sanction and a four-year postseason ban that makes the Nittany Lions ineligible to play in a conference championship game or bowl game for the next three seasons. The NCAA also announced that Penn State would face a scholarship reduction of 10 initial and 20 total each year for a four-year period.
The Nittany Lions are off to a 3-1 start this season and will begin Big Ten play at Indiana on Oct. 5.