NCAA reduces scholarship sanctions against Penn State

The NCAA on Tuesday reversed course on one of the major sanctions against the Penn State football program when it announced the Nittany Lions will start getting back scholarships beginning next year and can return to full strength of 85 scholarships in 2016.

Instead of being limited to 15 scholarships next year, the Lions will be able to give five more for a limit of 20. That will increase back to the NCAA maximum of 25 starting in 2015.

The Lions were to have been limited to 65 total scholarships from 2014-17, but now the program can get back up to 85 in 2016.

From a competitive standpoint, the drastic scholarship reductions were expected to significantly hinder Penn State’s ability to compete through the 2017 season. Having only 65 scholarships while everyone else was fielding teams with 85 was expected to put the Lions at a big disadvantage, something even coach Bill O’Brien has acknowledged.

The scholarship breakdown by year:

2014: Can offer 20, with a maximum of 75 on the team

2015: Can offer 25, with a maximum of 80 on the team

2016: Can offer 25, with a maximum of 85 on the team

Penn State’s bowl ban is still in effect for this year and the next two, but that sanction also could be revisited, NCAA officials said Tuesday.

Former Sen. George Mitchell, who has been monitoring Penn State’s progress in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, said he suggested to the NCAA that “the sanctions on Penn State should be modified.”

“Penn State has made a serious, good-faith effort to embrace and adopt the changes needed to enhance its future,” Mitchell said on a teleconference.

Mitchell later added, “I believe it appropriate to recognize and reward the positive response by President [Rodney] Erickson and the university.”

Mitchell added that he has recommended to the NCAA that it reconsider the Lions’ bowl ban at some point. Mitchell said it’s “premature to speculate” if the $60 million fine or vacated wins from 1998-2011 could be overturned.

The decision to reduce the sanctions came from the NCAA’s executive committee.

“The executive committee’s decision is an important recognition of the university’s progress,” NCAA president Mark Emmert said.

The Mirror will have more on this story, including comments from coach Bill O’Brien, throughout the day.