Citing what it says has been "Penn State's continued progress toward ensuring athletics integrity," the NCAA said Tuesday that it is gradually restoring the football scholarships the school lost in the aftermath of the child sex abuse scandal involving former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.
When the NCAA penalized the school in July 2012, the punishment included four years' worth of limits on how many scholarships Penn State could offer to new recruits. Instead of 25 per year, the school was cut to 15. That put Penn State at a disadvantage when it came to competing for the nation's best players.
That and other punishments were levied because, the NCAA said, Penn State had failed "to value and uphold institutional integrity." According to the NCAA, "inadequate and in some instances non-existent, controls and oversight" of the sports programs let Sandusky's actions go unreported to authorities.
But now, the school may offer 20 new scholarships for the 2014-15 academic year and then return to the pre-scandal limit of 25 in subsequent years.
The 2012 penalty also put a limit on how many football players in total — new recruits and returnees — could be receiving scholarships. After the punishment, the school could have up to 65. But starting in the 2016-17 academic year, the NCAA now says, Penn State can again have up to 85 individuals (new players and returnees) receiving football scholarships.
According to the NCAA, "this action is based on the recommendation of former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, the independent Athletics Integrity Monitor for Penn State, and was endorsed by the Division I Board of Directors. Because the Big Ten signed the Athletics Integrity Agreement, the Executive Committee sought the conference's input."
As for the progress Penn State has made, the NCAA says the school has "substantially completed the initial implementation of over 120 tasks outlined in the Athletics Integrity Agreement. They have hired their first Chief Compliance Officer and their first Athletics Integrity Officer. Penn State also has taken steps to ensure that there is appropriate oversight of intercollegiate athletics at the highest levels of the university's leadership."
The other penalties levied on Penn State included a $60 million fine to fund child abuse programs. That is not being lifted or reduced.
The NCAA also has not lifted a four-year ban on postseason play imposed on the school.
Sandusky was convicted last fall of sexually abusing at least 10 boys over about a 15-year period — a stretch of time that included some years before his 1999 retirement from the school. He's been sentenced to at least 30 years in prison.
Sandusky's fall 2011 arrest led to stories alleging that Penn State officials, including legendary head football coach Joe Paterno, had not done enough after being warned of Sandusky's actions years before. Paterno was fired shortly after the scandal broke. He died in January 2012.