On Monday Penn State went from playing a football season with a lot to prove to much, much more.
The NCAA removed the on-the-field sanctions placed on the Penn State football team for the Jerry Sandusky scandal, making the Nittany Lions eligible for a bowl game beginning this season. Scholarship limitations will be restored to the full complement of 85 beginning in 2015.
After the NCAA made its announcement, the Big Ten announced Penn State would be eligible to play in the Big Ten Championship game starting this season. The school still must pay a $60 million fine, 112 wins from the Joe Paterno era are still forfeited and the school will remain under monitoring.
This team plays for each other. We play for Penn State, our families, the former players, our students, alumni, fans and the community. We are so proud to represent Penn State and the Big Ten Conference and are working hard to prepare for our Big Ten opener at Rutgers.
“We are very appreciative of the opportunities the NCAA and Big Ten have provided with today’s announcement,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “This team plays for each other. We play for Penn State, our families, the former players, our students, alumni, fans and the community. We are so proud to represent Penn State and the Big Ten Conference and are working hard to prepare for our Big Ten opener at Rutgers.”
The NCAA’s decision came after the release of another positive annual report and recommendations by Sen. George Mitchell, the independent, third-party athletics integrity monitor for Penn State.
“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. “This is welcome news for the University community, particularly for our current and future student-athletes.”
The move by the NCAA makes sense in that the university is showing that it is taking the right steps to move forward and that the players on the team now aren’t the ones who need to be punished. The major players involved in the Sandusky scandal are all gone and that is the main thing that had to happen in Happy Valley. Sandusky has been convicted and is in jail. Former vice president Gary Schultz, former athletic director Tim Curley and former president Graham Spanier all face perjury charges in Pennsylvania and could be headed to jail as well.
For the most part, the football program was able to soldier on and get through two tough years. Penn State went 15-9 during the first two seasons of the sanctions under coach Bill O’Brien, who was hired to replace Paterno, who was fired not long after Sandusky, was charged with multiple counts of child sexual abuse. Paterno died in 2012. O’Brien moved on to become the coach of the Houston Texans of the NFL after last season and Franklin left Vanderbilt after building the Commodores from laughingstock to winning SEC team.
Now Franklin’s rebuild at Penn State just got easier. He’s 3-0 after Saturday night’s comeback win against Rutgers and the two toughest games Penn State has left, Ohio State and Michigan State, are at home. He won’t have to deal with sanctions and scholarship limits and instead can go out and get players and try and win football games. The Big Ten has some good teams, but it doesn’t look like there are any great ones and if Franklin can get results similar to the ones he got at Vanderbilt, the Nittany Lions could fill the conference’s power vacuum.
But for now the focus is on this season.
“This is great and now there’s nothing being held back from them in terms of opportunities. They have the ability to chase their dreams now,” Franklin said of his team. “We did bring the 49 guys on the team that stayed, up front and the rest of the team gave them a standing ovation and told them how much they mean to them and how much we are all in debt to them and how much respect the university, the alumni, the community has for them; and that they are going to play for them, because they were here for this program and this university when we needed them the most.”