Two years after the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal rocked football-crazed Penn State to its foundations, the NCAA has announced plans to reduce some of the penalties it initially levied against the university.
According to a press release, beginning next academic year the NCAA will restore five scholarships per year to Penn State’s football team, allowing the university to reach a total allotment of 85 total football scholarships in 2016.
“While there is more work to be done, Penn State has clearly demonstrated its commitment to restoring integrity in its athletics program,” said former Sen. George Mitchell, D-Maine, the "athletics integrity monitor" for Penn State. “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.”
Meanwhile, the NCAA said that other penalties -- including a $60 million fine, a postseason ban through 2016 and all victories vacated from 1998 through 2011 -- would remain in effect, though it would consider lessening those punishments in the future.
“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,” Mitchell said.
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As Deadspin points out, this is believed to be the first time the NCAA has ever reduced penalties against a school.
“The goal has always been to ensure the university reinforces clear expectations and a daily mindset within athletics that the highest priority must be placed on educating, nurturing and protecting young people,” said NCAA President Mark Emmert. “The executive committee’s decision to restore the football scholarships provides additional education opportunities and is an important recognition of Penn State’s progress.”
“The action taken today by the NCAA, following its review of the positive report issued this month by Sen. 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.”
Penn State is still reeling from the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, in which the former Nittany Lions defensive coordinator was sentenced to at least 30 years in prison for 45 counts of sexual abuse involving 10 boys over a period of 15 years. Sandusky is currently seeking a new trial.
As a result of the scandal, the NCAA hit Penn State with the harshest penalties since the Southern Methodist University “death penalty” in the late 1980s, when that Dallas school was banned from football for one year after multiple recruiting violations.