NCAA to restore some Penn State football scholarships early


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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Citing progress in reform by Penn State, the NCAA announced this morning it would allow the Penn State football team to increase its number of scholarships, revising the sanctions the organization levied on the university in July 2012 for the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal.

Originally mandated to carry a maximum of 65 scholarships under the sanctions for the next four years and sign no more than 15 scholarships per season for the next three years, Penn State can now sign 20 players for the upcoming 2014 season. It can have a roster of 75 scholarship players.

In 2015 it can sign 25 new scholarship players and have a roster of 80 scholarship players. In 2016 and 2017, it can sign 25 and have a roster of 85 scholarship players -- the maximum allowed for any team.

"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," university president Rodney Erickson said in a statement. "As we promised throughout this process, we are committed to continuing to improve all of our policies, procedures and actions."

No changes have been made to the bowl ban, which keeps Penn State out of postseason play this year and for the next two years. NCAA president Mark Emmert said on a conference call that discussing the possibility of lifting that ban in the future was hypothetical and not valuable to discuss right now. The NCAA noted on its website, though, that "additional mitigation may be considered depending on Penn State's continued progress."

The NCAA's executive committee voted to revise the sanctions largely because of progress made by Penn State in complying with the proposed changes put forth by the Athletics Integrity Agreement it entered with the NCAA, according to the NCAA. Mr. Emmert said it was not based on a request from Penn State. George Mitchell, who was named by the NCAA as Penn State's athletics integrity monitor, said the lessening of the sanctions was not "because they were inappropriate or unduly harsh."

The sanctions have been controversial since they were enacted. In January, Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett filed an antitrust lawsuit on behalf of the Commonwealth against the NCAA. It was thrown out in June.

In May, the family of former football coach Joe Paterno, several former players and coaches and several members of the Penn State Board of Trustees filed a lawsuit against the NCAA, claiming the organization bypassed its protocol for punishing universities and harmed them by this action. The lawsuit is ongoing.

This summer, Penn State coach Bill O'Brien said he wanted the NCAA to meet Penn State "halfway" with regards to the sanctions. On Tuesday during a press conference, he expressed a willingness to continue to work with the NCAA.

"We have to keep doing what we're doing and to do what's right for our football program here and most importantly for the university," he said.

The other part of the sanctions -- besides the scholarship reduction and bowl ban -- was a $60-million fine (to be paid in a $12-million annual increment over five years) that Penn State was ordered to give to child abuse charities. The NCAA said on its website that reducing or eliminating that fine was not considered.

State senator Jake Corman sued the NCAA to keep the $60-million for Pennsylvania charities only. Earlier this month, a judge rejected the NCAA's motion to dismiss the suit.

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Mark Dent: mdent@post-gazette.com, 412-439-3791 and Twitter @mdent05


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