Perhaps that last second win against Central Florida in Dublin Ireland two weeks ago was not in vain. After beating Akron 21-3 on Saturday, new Penn State head coach James Franklin learned today that his Nittany Lions will be eligible for post season play this year.
Following the recommendation of former Sen. George Mitchell – the Penn State athletics integrity monitor, the NCAA has reduced sanctions against the football program stemming from the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. (The school is still responsible for paying the $60-million fine, and the 112 wins taken from Joe Paterno are still considered forfeits.)
Texans head coach Bill O’Brien, who spent the past two years cleaning up the mess left by the Sandusky scandal, said at his press conference today that, “Penn State was a fantastic place. Great education. Great football program.” He added that, “A lot of good people have done a lot of great things over there the past couple of years to make sure they’ve learned from the past mistakes and understood that its a special place.” He said he, “(felt) best for the players and coaching staff now in place.”
A major reason O’Brien was considered a “hot” NFL coaching prospect is because of the 15-9 record he compiled and the fact that while every player was free to leave, only nine opted to transfer from State College, PA following Sandusky’s conviction on 45 counts of sexual abuse of ten boys. Sandusky is now serving a 30-60 prison sentence.
Originally, Penn State faced a four-year postseason ban in addition to reduced scholarship numbers – before today’s announcement PSU would’ve had just 80 scholarships next season and would not be eligible for the full 85 man scholarship roster limit until 2016. The Nittany Lions are playing with 75 players on scholarship this year.
Despite the good news, not everyone is happy in “Happy Valley.” Scott Paterno, son of Joe and a spokesman for the family said today, “This is deserved because those penalties were never deserved, I am happy for the university and the team…but there is still a lot to be done and a lot to be corrected. I think the NCAA saying this relief is because of the Mitchell report process is a cover for the fact there was a faulty Freeh report.” Former FBI director Louis Freeh made 119 recommendations to Penn State in the wake of the scandal. Paterno says a lawsuit brought against the NCAA will continue and that he’s hopeful and certain that at some time his fathers’ victories will be restored.
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