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NCAA lifts Penn State sanctions

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Lions eligible for postseason play immediately two years after child rape scandal and subsequent cover-up allegations

STATE COLLEGE - After two years and 26 games under an NCAA-imposed bowl ban and scholarship restrictions, Penn State received some good news from the college sports governing body today.

Per a recommendation from Penn State’s athletics oversight monitor, George Mitchell, the NCAA lifted some of the sanctions it had placed on the Nittany Lions’ football program in July of 2012.

The Lions are bowl eligible effective immediately and will receive their full allocation of scholarships for the 2015-16 season.

“My recommendations, both in 2013 and in this report, relate to elements of the sanctions that most directly affect Penn State’s student-athletes, who bear no responsibility for the underlying reasons for the sanctions,” Mitchell said in his report released on Monday. “...I believe these student-athletes should have the opportunity to play in the post-season should they earn it on the field this year. The maximum number of student-athletes ought to be given the chance both to receive a quality education and be active in sports.”

In 2012, the NCAA had stripped Penn State of bowl eligibility until the 2017 season and handed the team a four-year scholarship reduction.

After Mitchell’s first report in September of 2013, the NCAA had returned some of the scholarships to the Lions, allowing the team to have a full complement of players for the 2016-17 season.

The NCAA’s decision to lift the sanctions came after Mitchell presented his work to the governing bodies’ Executive Committee and members of the Big Ten Conference on Monday.

“Penn State’s commitment to the integrity of its athletic department and its progress toward meeting the requirements of the Consent Decree are clear,” Northern Arizona President and chair of Monday’s NCAA Executive Committee meeting Rita Hartung Cheng told ncaa.com. “...Mitchell’s efforts and the dedication of Penn State officials made [Monday’s] decisions possible.”

Over the two years of the sanctions, the Lions under former head coach Bill O’Brien — now head coach of the NFL’s Houston Texans — had gone 15-9 and had shown resiliency in the face of the crippling reductions.

This season, under new head coach James Franklin, the team has started 2-0 with wins against Central Florida and Akron to start the year.

The lifting of the sanctions makes the Lions eligible for the new College Football Playoff format and the Big Ten also confirmed that the team will be able to participate in the Big Ten Championship should the squad make the game.

Although the university still faces the financial sanctions handed down by the NCAA, its president, Eric Barron, said the ruling was welcome news.

“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,” Barron said in a press release Monday.

Franklin also expressed his gratitude towards the NCAA’s reduction.

“We are very appreciative of the opportunities the NCAA and Big Ten have provided with today’s announcement,” Franklin said in a press release. “This team plays for each other. We play for Penn State, our families, the former players, our students, alumni, fans and the community. We are so proud to represent Penn State and the Big Ten Conference and are working hard to prepare for our Big Ten opener at Rutgers.”

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