by Chip Patterson cbssportsline.com
The NCAA Executive Committee will gradually restore football scholarships to Penn State's football program, due to the school's "continued progress toward ensuring athletics integrity."
Beginning in 2014-15, five additional initial scholarships will be restored to the football team. That number, according to the NCAA, will continue to increase.
The action is based on the recommendation of former U.S. Senator George Mitchell and endorsed by the Division I Board of Directors.
"Providing relief from the scholarship restrictions will give more student-athletes an opportunity to attend Penn State on athletics scholarship while also creating an incentive for the university to continue its progress under new leadership after President Erickson's impending departure," Mitchell said in the official release.
The school's four-year postseason ban still stands, along with the $60 million fine and other sanctions issued by the NCAA more than a year ago. The restoration of scholarships has been laid out by the NCAA to allow the football team to increase to 75 in 2014-15, 80 in 2015-16, and begin competing with 85 scholarship student-athletes again in the 2016-17 academic year.
"While there is more work to be done, Penn State has clearly demonstrated its commitment to restoring integrity in its athletics program," said Mitchell. "The university has substantially completed the initial implementation of all the Freeh Report recommendations and its obligations to the Athletics Integrity Agreement, so relief from the scholarship reductions is warranted and deserved."
Bill O'Brien's first year with the Nittany Lions was impressive, as the team overcame NCAA-approved transfers and a public backlash to rally together and finish 8-4 on the season. But the second-year head coach has been bracing for the tougher challenge of building his program in State College with limited scholarships. Even with the bowl ban in place, this move by the NCAA allows O'Brien to overcome some of the disadvantages in recruiting top talent to Penn State.