After former Senator George Mitchell's finding of exemplary progress made by Penn State for a second straight year during his tenure as Athletic Integrity Monitor, the NCAA has decided to follow through with his recommendations of dropping the harshest penalties handed down by the organization two years ago, the bowl ban and the reduction of scholarships, immediately. This means that, if bowl-eligible, Penn State will head back to the postseason at the end of the 2014 season and will have their full allotment of 25 scholarships to offer for the 2015-16 cycle.
From Mitchell's report:
"Through the second year of the Consent Decree, Penn State has not wavered in its commitment to fulfilling the requirements of the AIA and to implementing the recommendations made in the Freeh Report." Senator Mitchell said. "The initiatives undertaken in the first year have begun to take root as a result of Penn State’s continuing focus on these reforms," Senator Mitchell continued. "Chief among the University’s accomplishments has been the institution of a wholly new and comprehensive compliance program that places oversight of athletics compliance outside of the Athletics Department and ensures direct access to the University’s senior leadership and Board of Trustees," Senator Mitchell noted. Penn State also made significant strides toward installing a new human resources information system, fostering an ethical culture, and enhancing security at athletics and recreational facilities.
With the outstanding commitment Penn State has made to improving in any way it could, Mitchell recommended to both the Big Ten and NCAA executive committees that the bowl ban and scholarship reductions should be done away with. Both organizations agreed with his advice. Also of note, as part of the Athletic Integrity Agreement, Penn State was supposed to be monitored by Mitchell for five years. Mitchell also recommended that if substantial progress was once again made by the time his third report comes out next year, monitorship should cease.
The NCAA executive committee and Board of Directors also released statements:
"Penn State’s commitment to the integrity of its athletics department and its progress toward meeting the requirements of the Consent Decree are clear," said Northern Arizona President Rita Hartung Cheng, who chaired Monday’s Executive Committee meeting. "We thank Senator Mitchell for his meticulous and exhaustive work over the past two years. Mitchell’s efforts and the dedication of Penn State officials made today’s decisions possible."
"Penn State has made remarkable progress over the past year," said Harris Pastides, Board member and University of South Carolina president. "The board members and I believe the Executive Committee’s decision is the right one. It allows both the university and the association to continue to move toward a common goal of ensuring that educating, nurturing and protecting young people is a top priority."
With today's news, the only NCAA penalties against the Penn State program that remain are the $60 million fine and the vacation of the team's 111 wins between 1998-2011. The Big Ten's probation and fine are still intact.
Big Ten presidents and chancellors confirm Penn State now eligible for league championship game. Probation period and fine remains in effect— Adam Rittenberg (@ESPNRittenberg) September 8, 2014
Penn State is now a third of the way to a bowl trip in December or January and James Franklin, already on fire on the recruiting trail, no longer has obstacles associated with the sanctions in his way when selling the program to high schoolers looking to commit.
Analysis and discussion will come in future stories, but take this thread to celebrate the elimination of penalties that have divided a fanbase, college football fans and society at-large over the past two years.