The NCAA has rescinded Penn State's bowl ban and removed the scholarships penalty that it imposed in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal in 2012.
The NCAA's sanctions on the university included a $60 million fine, the reduction of 40 scholarships over four years, a four-year postseason ban, a five-year probation and that all wins would be vacated from 1998 to 2011.
On Monday afternoon, two of those penalties were rescinded, according to Michelle Brutlag Hosick of NCAA.org:
Due to Penn State University's significant progress toward ensuring its athletics department functions with integrity, the NCAA Executive Committee today eliminated the school's postseason ban, effective immediately, and will return the full complement of football scholarships in 2015-16.
The committee's action endorses recommendations released today by George Mitchell, the university's athletics oversight monitor, in his latest report.
NCAA Board member and South Carolina president Harris Pastides said:
Penn State has made remarkable progress over the past year. The board members and I believe the Executive Committee's decision is the right one. It allows both the university and the association to continue to move toward a common goal of ensuring that educating, nurturing and protecting young people is a top priority.
Adam Rittenberg of ESPN.com added the following:
The Big Ten later confirmed that in a statement (via Bill Landis of Cleveland.com):
'Following our briefing with Senator Mitchell, the (Council of Presidents and Chancellors) reached consensus agreement to support his latest recommendation and also agreed to restore the school's eligibility for the Big Ten Football Championship Game, which ran concurrently with the NCAA postseason bowl ban" said COPC Chair and Iowa President Sally Mason in the release. "We support the NCAA announcement acting on that recommendation, thank Senator Mitchell for his dedicated service and appreciate Penn State's ongoing commitment to improvement.'
Penn State head coach James Franklin commented on the announcement via his Twitter account:
Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports weighed in on the decision to lift the penalties:
The move doesn't come as a complete surprise. Just last year, the NCAA announced Penn State would gradually have its scholarships restored, from 75 in 2014 to 80 in 2015 and finally the full 85 in 2016. Now, however, the school will have its full 85 restored a year earlier than expected.
Following the decision, former Penn State coach Bill O'Brien (via Tania Ganguli of ESPN):
What seems less likely is that the school will ever have any of its victories from 1998 to 2011 re-added to the record books. These latest reversals seem to indicate that Penn State has made a conscious effort to improve as a university and football program, but there is little to suggest that the NCAA would ever do anything to reaffirm the legacy of Joe Paterno or any of the other men involved in the original scandal.
Following the announcement, Joe Schad of ESPN spoke to Scott Paterno, who said his family will continue its lawsuit against the NCAA:
The punishments had certainly become a subject of great debate after they were originally levied, as many felt they unfairly punished innocent student-athletes and the coaches who followed Paterno. Others felt the punishments were important to change what was perceived as a culture of football obsession and the larger-than-life status of figures like Paterno, whom the NCAA found to be complicit in a cover-up of Sandusky's actions.
That debate will likely be renewed now that the NCAA has reduced the punishment just two years in. Still, there's no doubting that the Penn State football program is a dramatically altered one and, according to the NCAA, the changes have all been for the better.
Now, Penn State has to prove it can consistently live up to those standards moving forward.