Penn State football got out from under the most severe on-field sanctions imposed on it two years ago over the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal, learning Monday that the NCAA will allow it to compete in this year’s postseason and that all scholarships will return in 2015.
The surprise announcement, linked to progress the school has made reforming its athletic program, moved the university a step farther away from the fallout from Sandusky, the former assistant coach convicted of sexual abuse of 10 boys, including acts at university facilities.
The scandal badly tarnished what had been one of college sports’ most respected programs, led to charges of a criminal cover-up against former university administrators Graham Spanier, Gary Schultz and Tim Curley — whose cases are still pending — and the firing of Hall of Fame coach Joe Paterno.
Penn State had been halfway through a four-year postseason ban handed down in the summer of 2012. Some of the 40 scholarships the program was originally docked were restored earlier than expected a year ago.
The university still must pay a $60 million fine, vacate 111 wins that came under Paterno, plus another victory under interim coach Tom Bradley, and the school will remain under monitoring.
The decision by the NCAA’s Executive Committee followed a recommendation by former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, whose second annual report as Penn State’s athletics integrity monitor concluded the university was in compliance with a 2012 agreement and consent decree.
“Senator Mitchell’s report and recommendations, along with the actions taken by the NCAA today, are a recognition of the hard work of many over the past two years to make Penn State a stronger institution,” said Penn State President Eric Barron, who took over in February.
Mitchell said the school had made progress toward implementing a new human resources system, “fostering an ethical culture” and improving security at its sports facilities. His own five-year oversight role, scheduled to continue to 2017, may end earlier as a result of the progress that has been made, he said.
Mitchell said his recommendation was focused on aspects of the penalties that affect student-athletes, many of whom stayed at Penn State despite the ability to transfer without penalty.
“In light of Penn State’s responsiveness to its obligations and the many improvements it has instituted, I believe these student-athletes should have the opportunity to play in the postseason should they earn it on the field this year,” Mitchell wrote.
His report said incidents involving the team this year included only minor infractions.