Some of the best news the Penn State football program has received in the past two years came Tuesday, and it was from the very same group that delivered some of the worst news 14 months ago.
In a surprise announcement, the NCAA revealed Tuesday that the Nittany Lions will be getting back, on a gradual basis, the football scholarships that had been stripped away as a result of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
Under the initial NCAA sanctions, Penn State would have been limited to 65 total scholarships, instead of the usual 85, each year from 2014-17. The school also faced four years of only being able to offer 15 scholarships per year, instead of the usual 25.
Mirror file photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Penn State safety Ryan Keiser (23), linebacker Stephen Obeng-Agyapong (7) and cornerback Jordan Lucas celebrate during an Eastern Michigan game on Sept. 7. The NCAA announced it would return some football scholarships taken away following sanctions against Penn State’s handling of the Jerry Sandusky sex-abuse scandal.
These are the reduced sanctions:
-- 2014: Can offer 20 scholarships and a team maximum of 75
-- 2015: Can offer 25 scholarships and a team maximum of 80
REACTION TO NCAA DECISION
"NCAA gives back SOME PSU scholarships? Why not ALL? ANY football sanctions are still an affront to the truth" Jay Paterno, on Twitter
"This is great news. I am pleased for the student athletes who were unjustly punished for deeds not their own. I will continue to be a strong advocate for our Penn State Reform package. I will also continue to encourage the university to implement transparency polices that will benefit Penn State's future for years to come." State Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Centre
"The announcement today by the NCAA that they are reducing sanctions on Penn State is welcome news. Over the last 14 months it has become clear to open-minded people that the Freeh Report is deeply flawed and the actions by the NCAA were precipitous and unjust. This action begins to correct the mistakes of the Board of Trustees, Mr. Freeh and the NCAA. Penn State is a great university with an excellent culture. The ultimate resolution to this tragic episode is a full and fair review of the record. A transparent process that respects due process will serve the best interests of the victims, the university, the NCAA and all other affected parties." Family of Joe Paterno
"I am very happy for Coach O'Brien, the football coaches and staff and the players; especially pleased for our current and future student-athletes, who are the most important reason why we love working in intercollegiate athletics. We will continue to work hard within the Athletics Integrity Agreement to fully comply and to achieve excellence in everything we do at Penn State." Penn State Athletic Director Dave Joyner
"On the basis of Senator Mitchell's briefing, the COPC reached consensus to support his recommendation to the NCAA. We support the NCAA's announcement today acting on that recommendation." Iowa President Sally Mason, chairwoman of Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors
-- 2016: Can offer 25 scholarships and a team maximum of 85
So by 2016, Penn State will be back up to par with every other program in the country. Under the initial sanctions, that likely would not have been mathematically possible until at least 2019.
"Today's announcement by the NCAA is tremendous news," PSU football coach Bill O'Brien said in a university statement.
Just as the severe sanctions levied in July 2012 were unprecedented, the NCAA's decision to reduce some of the stiffest penalties also is being viewed in that regard.
"[It's] my view that the sanctions on Penn State should be modified," former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, the integrity monitor assigned to keep tabs on the school's progress, said in a teleconference.
Mitchell made his recommendations to the NCAA, and the group's executive committee decided to reward Penn State for being diligent in implementing 119 recommendations made by Louis Freeh, who investigated the school's role in the scandal.
"Penn State has made a serious, good-faith effort to embrace and adopt the changes needed to enhance its future," Mitchell said.
He later added, "I believe it appropriate to recognize and reward the positive response by President [Rodney] Erickson and the university."
Erickson said the NCAA's decision 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."
"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," Erickson said in a university statement.
NCAA President Mark Emmert, who has been heavily criticized by Penn State supporters for levying the sanctions, called the executive committee's decision "an important recognition of the university's progress."
Emmert angered many Penn State supporters when he claimed last year that there was a "culture" problem at the school that helped lead to what happened during the scandal. Emmert did not directly answer a question Tuesday about whether the culture has changed.
"I'll refer to Sen. Mitchell for his observations about what has and hasn't changed," Emmert said.
None of the other NCAA sanctions against Penn State have been reduced. Those include a $60 million fine, a four-year bowl ban from 2012-15 and all wins vacated from 1998-2011.
However, the officials who spoke Tuesday did leave open the possibility that other sanctions could be revisited at a later point. Mitchell said he recommended reducing the bowl ban to the NCAA but added it would be "premature to speculate" if that or any other sanction would be reduced.
"This process is not in any way complete," Mitchell said before later adding, "Part of the process is seeing what [Penn State does] in following up."