In this March 30, 2012 file photo, former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell acknowledges the crowd after speaking at a campaign stop for President Obama at Southern Maine Community College in South Portland, Maine. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)
by Mark Scolforo
Associated Press Writer
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Penn State will gradually get back football scholarships taken away over the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal, the NCAA announced Tuesday, crediting the university for making significant improvements to its athletics programs.
Five scholarships will be restored next year and more will be phased in until the school reaches normal totals in 2016-17, college sports’ governing body said. The NCAA said the decision was based on the recommendation of former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, who has been serving as Penn State’s athletics integrity monitor.
“This action provides an opportunity to recognize Penn State’s significant momentum, while also providing additional opportunities for student-athletes,” said Wake Forest University president Nathan Hatch, chair of the NCAA’s Division I board of directors.
A report commissioned by the school heavily criticized university leaders’ response to complaints about Sandusky. Penn State and the NCAA agreed to the penalties more than a year ago, shortly after Sandusky was convicted of 45 counts of sexual abuse. They also require the school to pay a $60 million fine and serve a five-year ban on postseason play. The NCAA eliminated 112 wins by the football program.
Penn State president Rodney Erickson called the restoration of scholarships particularly welcome news for student-athletes who want to attend Penn State “and will now have the means to do so.”
The NCAA said it also may reduce the postseason, depending on the university’s future progress. Mitchell said it was premature to say which other sanctions might be changed.
“This was a positive response to positive action, and as to the future, we’ll have to make judgments in the future,” Mitchell told reporters in a conference call.
Mitchell said he recommended the restoration of scholarships, but the specific elements were decided by the NCAA and Big 10 conference. Earlier this month, Mitchell issued a report on the first year of his service as monitor, crediting Penn State for notable progress that included implementation of 119 recommendations made last summer by former FBI director Louis Freeh, who directed the school’s investigation into the scandal.
Sandusky is serving a 30- to 60-year state prison sentence for sexual abuse of 10 boys, including incidents inside Penn State athletics facilities. A state appeals court recently heard oral argument in his quest for a new trial.