Penn State University’s football program next season will get back five football scholarships that had been stripped in the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal.
The Indianapolis-based National Collegiate Athletic Association said in a statement Tuesday that the university had made “continued progress toward ensuring athletics integrity” in the aftermath of the Sandusky case.
The NCAA said that while other penalties would remain in place, it might consider “additional mitigation” in the four- year postseason game ban placed on the Nittany Lions. The original punishment included annual reductions of 20 scholarships for four years, and the NCAA said the number of restored scholarships would continue to increase.
“While there is more work to be done, Penn State has clearly demonstrated its commitment to restoring integrity in its athletics program,” said George Mitchell, the former U.S. senator who was hired as the school’s athletics integrity monitor. “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 officials said in a separate statement that they were gratified by the decision to modify the sanctions, which they said will restore a total of 65 football scholarships.
“The action taken today by the NCAA, following its review of the positive report issued this month by Senator George Mitchell, recognizes the significant efforts over the past year to make Penn State a safer, stronger institution,” Penn State President Rodney Erickson said. “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.”
The NCAA imposed unprecedented penalties, including a $60 million fine, on the State College, Pennsylvania-based school after a July 2012 report by former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Louis Freeh said top Penn State officials failed to protect children from Sandusky.
The initial punishment called for the NCAA to review the sanctions after two years, but Mitchell said the school had made enough progress to revisit them early.
He suggested the modifications focus on scholarships because that would most directly affect the athletes.
“This was a positive response to positive action,” Mitchell said on a media conference call, calling the modifications “a combination of both attitude and action that have been positive.”
Penn State is 3-1 this season, its only loss coming at home Sept. 14 against the University of Central Florida, 34-31. Last season was their first after sanctions had been leveled and the Nittany Lions went 8-4, including 6-2 in the Big Ten Conference, good for second place in the Leaders Division behind undefeated Ohio State. Both schools were banned from the postseason because of rules violations.
Sandusky, 69, who retired in 1999, was sentenced to at least 30 years in prison for abusing boys. He is seeking to reverse his conviction, claiming he didn’t get a fair trial.
During his sentencing on Oct. 9, 2012, he blamed his victims, attorneys and the media for making him out to be a “monster” who “did disgusting things.”
He was found guilty by a jury in June 2012 on 45 counts of abusing boys over a 15-year period. The abuse took place on the Penn State campus and at Sandusky’s home, according to testimony.
The scandal led to the firings of university President Graham Spanier and football coach Joe Paterno, who died in January 2012.
Spanier and two other school officials face related criminal charges.
Last month, the school agreed to settle claims brought by Sandusky’s victims for an undisclosed amount. It has spent almost $50 million on the scandal, including the first of five installments toward the $60 million NCAA fine.