HARRISBURG, Pa. (KDKA/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.

Sen. Mitchell spoke about the decision today.

“Penn State has made a serious, good-faith effort to embrace and adopt the changes needed to enhance its future. President Rodney Erickson and his administration and the leaders of the Board of Trustees have acted with courage and fortitude in implementing the changes required by the athletics integrity agreement,” Sen. Mitchell said.

Listen to his full remarks here:

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.”

Many Penn State students and graduates were happy to hear Tuesday that the NCAA was restoring scholarships to the university.

Those happy about the news included two coaches at Canon McMillan Football Field — home of the Big Macs.

Warming up, stretching out players for Tuesday’s practice was Head Coach Ron Coder and Defensive Coordinator Leo Wisniewski.

“I think it’s great,” said Coder, a Penn State University graduate. “They took away the scholarships. When they took away the scholarships in the first place, it was really hurting the kids, not the university that much.”

Coder, an NFL veteran who played for Joe Paterno at Penn State in the ‘70s, sees hope on today’s NCAA decision.

“I think for the guys now, the kids that are playing now and the future kids playing in the next couple years,” Coder said, “it’s gonna help the team.”

Wisniewski also played in the NFL and played under Paterno at PSU in the early ‘80s.

“I’m very pleased by the NCAA’s ruling on this to restore scholarships incrementally over the next few years,” he said. “I think it represents the NCAA oversteps it’s bounds.”

Today’s NCAA decision restored five scholarships next year, with scholarship numbers reaching normal totals in 2016-17.

On the campus of Penn State Tuesday, there was sunshine and optimism.

“Relief, it’s relief,” said PSU grad Tyler Wisniewski. “All you hear is bad news and the dark spot on Penn State and finally something great has happened.

Listen to Franco Harris on NewsRadio 1020 KDKA:

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.


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