Penn State’s postseason football ban lifted
Penn State’s football program no longer faces the most severe on-field sanctions imposed on it two years ago over the child abuse scandal surrounding ex-assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, learning that it will be allowed 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 famed athletic program, moved the university a step farther away from the fallout from Sandusky, who was convicted of sexual abuse of 10 boys, including acts at university facilities.
The scandal badly tarnished what had been one of American college sports’ most respected programs, led to charges of a criminal cover-up against former university administrators and the firing of Hall of Fame coach Joe Paterno. It also prompted debate over how sports, especially football, had come to dominate U.S. universities.
Penn State had been halfway through a four-year postseason ban handed down during 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 and the school will remain under monitoring.
The decision by the NCAA, which governs college sports, 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.
His 58-page report said incidents involving the football team this year included only minor infractions.
The penalties against Penn State were unprecedented in many ways and, because of that, not well-received by many in college sports. While lack of institutional control was cited, Penn State’s missteps had nothing to do with competition and the areas that usually fall under the NCAA’s jurisdiction.
“The biggest problem I had was the effect on the student athletes in the program,” said former Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe, who worked in NCAA enforcement during the 1980s, including on the SMU football death penalty case. “They (Penn State’s players) weren’t involved in a program that was cheating against their rivals and now all of sudden they’re not able to participate in postseason.”
The NCAA cutting the penalties down is also unusual. Beebe said rolling back the sanctions gives the appearance of the NCAA acknowledging it might have overreached by getting involved with the Sandusky scandal.
On Friday, the NCAA said in a Pennsylvania state court filing it is willing to let the state government control the $60 million fine Penn State is paying under the consent decree. The NCAA wants the judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by state officials seeking to enforce a 2013 state law that requires the money remain in the state.
If the judge agrees, the NCAA said it also will move to end a federal lawsuit against Gov. Tom Corbett and others that challenges that same law.
Paterno was the winningest coach in major college football history when he was fired not long after Sandusky, his former defensive coordinator, was charged in November 2011. Paterno died in January 2012 and lost his record when the NCAA vacated 111 of his victories.
Scolforo reported from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.